A MYSTERIOUS Swiss investor has held detailed talks about a possible bid for Aston Villa, the Premier League football club, it can be revealed.
A Geneva-based fund, named IM 1872, was close to agreeing a takeover with Randy Lerner, Villa's American owner, over the summer only for the discussions to break down after its financial backers unexpectedly pulled out at the last minute. But the firm, which is one of the main investors in German Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin, is understood to be still scouring the UK Premier League for potential investment opportunities.
It is now believed to be seeking fresh funding in the hope of reviving its bid for Villa, which was put up for sale by Mr Lerner in May last year when the American tycoon announced he felt he could no longer do the job. Since then, Mr Lerner claims to have had interest from around the globe including from German, Italian, American and Chinese investors.
IM 1872, run by two former media executives, had lined up backing from the Asian arm of Barings Bank, based in Hong Kong. However, executives based in the Chinese territory vetoed the deal over concerns that ownership of a football club carried too much risk.
Mr Lerner reportedly values Aston Villa at between pounds 150m and pounds 200m. However, it is understood IM 1872's offer was below that range.
The American entrepreneur has owned Villa for nine years and also owns the Cleveland Browns American football team, which he inherited when Mr Lerner's father Al died in 2002. He bought out Doug Ellis in a pounds 60m-plus deal in 2006 and for a while the club's glory days looked like they might return.
Since then, however, the team has increasingly struggled. Last year, Villa finished 17th in the Premier League, the club's worst position since Mr Lerner took over.
This season's performance has been worse and 10 days ago Mr Lerner sacked Tim Sherwood as manager after just 28 games in charge with the club at the bottom of the Premiership table. Villa have just four points from 10 games and not a single league win since the opening day of the season. The club yesterday appointed ex-Lyon boss Remi Garde as their new manager on a three-and-a-half-year deal. The Frenchman, 49, was expected to watch Villa's match last night at Tottenham.
The downturn in Villa's fortunes is a big blow for the club, which is one of the oldest, most successful, and best-supported in football.
Earlier this year, Mr Lerner said he would step down as chairman if a sale failed to materialise. The club posted a pounds 3.9m annual loss in February, though that was a marked improvement on the pounds 51.8m loss the previous year. IM1872 declined to comment.