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How are U.S. owners faring in English football?

By Greg Duke, CNN
United supporters leave the Glazer family in no doubt that they want them to sell their interest in Manchester United.
United supporters leave the Glazer family in no doubt that they want them to sell their interest in Manchester United.
  • American owners have had a mixed year in the English Premier League
  • The Glazers have been the victims of mass demonstrations by Manchester United fans
  • Liverpool's joint-owners are actively seeking to sell their shares in the club

(CNN) -- Earlier this week, Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner announced that manager Martin O'Neill was staying at the club for at least another season.

Media reports had suggested that relations had become strained between the placid American and the excitable Northern Irishman, who has led Villa to another top six English Premier League placing this season.

However, all would appear, for now at least, to be rosy in the Villa Park garden.

But the same cannot be said for the other American owners currently involved in the English Premier League.

Now the season is over, and attention turns to the World Cup in South Africa, we look at the current state of play for American owners of Premier League clubs.

The Glazer Family - Manchester United:

Last Sunday, Manchester United had a chance to snatch the Premier League title from Chelsea's grasp.

United had won three Premier League titles in a row and needed Chelsea to slip up at home to Wigan, to keep the Red Devils in with a chance of making it four.

Should that have happened, a United win over Stoke would have seen Alex Ferguson's side crowned champions again.

Yet, with so much riding on the game, United fans decided to hold the latest in a series of mass demonstrations against the Glazers.

Such is the Glazer family's unpopularity in Manchester, that a possible title-winning match was overshadowed by some unsavory scenes beforehand.

United supporters want the Glazer's out. They feel they are bleeding money out of the club, getting them further into debt, increasing ticket prices to record levels and generally do not have United's interests at heart.

"There are two big problems: bank debt and fees," Andrew Green, a fund manager who advises the Manchester United Supporters Trust -- a fan group leading the protests against the Glazer regime -- told CNN.

The "Green and Gold" campaign has also proved massively effective in getting the fans' message across.

United's original colors of green and gold have been in evidence, through the wearing of scarves, t-shirts and waving banners, across the country as supporters continue to let the Glazers know that they want United to return to their roots -- preferably with English owners.

The campaign has been in-your-face, well organized and powerful and the Glazers will be in no doubt that they are not wanted at the famous old club.

There have been alleged consortiums willing to buy the Glazers out, notably the self-styled "Red Knights" -- a group of leading city businessmen -- but as yet the Glazers have shown no inclination of relinquishing control.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett - Liverpool:

In complete contrast to the Glazers, these two cannot wait to get their investment out of Liverpool -- and the fans cannot wait for them to sell their shares either.

A dismal season on the pitch, which saw Liverpool slump from second the previous campaign to seventh this time around -- missing out on a lucrative place in the Champions League in the process -- has only served to increase tensions around Anfield.

Basically, the club are broke and the joint owners want to sell up. But various different consortiums, who express a desire in buying Liverpool, never seem to go through with their initial interest.

The reason appears to be the price that Hicks and Gillett view the club. Various figures have been bandied about as to how much they want for their shares, but what seems undeniable is that Hicks and Gillett want to make money from their investment -- and are unwilling or unable to invest in the team in the interim.

This has left the club in a state of hiatus and taken the pressure off manager Rafael Benitez, who has retained the support of the fans despite Liverpool's dismal season.

With their famous Anfield stadium crumbling around them, following the local council's refusal to grant planning permission for a new ground, and Hicks and Gillett unwilling to sell to a new investor unless they make a profit on their initial outlay, these are troubled times at Liverpool.

The club's situation has been summed up by former player Mark Lawrenson, who won the European Cup with Liverpool in 1984.

Lawrenson told CNN: "The current owners have done nothing for Liverpool. The day the club was sold to the Americans was one of the worst in the club's history.

"It's a long, long path to get the club back to the position they used to be in."

Randy Lerner - Aston Villa:

Lerner is rich, very rich. The New Yorker, who is reported to be worth about $1.5 billion, too over at Aston Villa in 2006 and has steadily seen the club become a force in the Premier League.

The 48-year-old also owns the Cleveland Browns American football team and is renowned for keeping as low profile.

While chaos has ensued at both Liverpool and Manchester United, Lerner has always been held up as an example of how American ownership can be a major success in the Premier League.

Lerner's stock remains high and he remains immensely popular with the Villa fans.

Dave Woodhall, a director of the Aston Villa Supporters Trust, told CNN: "I don't think there has ever been a football club owner more in tune with his own fans than Mr Lerner.

"He really does have the club and the Villa fans at heart, which is amazing considering he is not from the area, or even the country.

"You really have to be a supporter of Aston Villa to know just how much he feels for the place. He has even got a Villa tattoo on his leg -- that says it all really."

Despite Lerner's popularity, recent events in football have indicated that public opinion can change very quickly should things go slightly awry and the owner's problem appears to be how he copes with the excitable nature of manager O'Neill.

The Northern Irishman has led the club to sixth place in the last three seasons, but has called for more investment if the side are to make the step up into challenging for a top four place -- and subsequent Champions League qualification.

O'Neill, who is constantly linked with other jobs in the British media, has pledged his future to the the club, but wants Lerner to splash the cash in the transfer market.

If the American fails to provide his manager with the necessary funds, O'Neill might walk, and Villa's highly-rated young squad could be in danger of fragmenting.

Should that happen, Lerner's reputation among the fans, which has taken three years to cultivate, could come crashing down around him in double quick time.

Stan Kroenke - Arsenal:

Kroenke is addicted to buying sporting franchises and his portfolio reads like a who's-who of top sporting organizations.

The 62-year-old owns the Denver Nuggets NBA basketball team, Colorado Avalanche NHL ice hockey side, St Louis Rams NBA side and the Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer team.

But it his involvement with Arsenal, the most English of English football teams, that is making all the headlines.

The London club are at the center of an intriguing power struggle that seems to have reached a deadlock.

On one side is Kroenke. Quiet, unassuming and a lover of sport, Kroenke has steadily been buying up Arsenal shares over the last three years and now finds himself owning 29.9 per cent of the club.

Should he purchase another 0.1 per cent share, he would then be obliged to make an offer for the remaining shares in the club -- something he has not yet indicated he wants to do.

On the other side is brash Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

With an estimated fortune of over $7 billion, the 56-year-old is in the top 100 richest people in the world. He owns 24 per cent of the club but, unlike Kroenke, is not a member of the Arsenal board.

Usmanov has made no secret of his ultimate aim to take over Arsenal and spend vast amounts of money on improving the team.

However, he is viewed with complete distrust by the board members and Arsenal fans alike, who want the club to retain their traditional values and not see them became like rivals Chelsea -- who are owned by another Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

This distrust has led to Kroenke being viewed as the "good guy" in the battle for control of Arsenal.

It remains to be seen what plans the American has for his shares and, as yet, his influence remains limited to just being another member of the club's board.

It is a situation which CNN business correspondent Jim Boulden does not see changing in the foreseeable future.

"The fact that Kroenke has recently purchased the Rams -- one of the worst teams in the NFL -- means he is going to have to spend his time and effort trying to rebuild that club," said Boulden.

"It's hard to see that he would do that and try to take over Arsenal -- that would be a lot for one person to take on."