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Things may start turning around soon for Premier League club Aston Villa as Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner became the second NFL boss to buy a soccer team in the English top division.

Lerner's group, Reform Acquisitions Ltd., offered $10.37 per Aston Villa share, and the club's board recommended the deal to shareholders and said that owners of nearly 57 percent of the shares committed to the deal.

"It is my belief and the basis for my bid to acquire Aston Villa Football Club that it can compete at the highest level within the Premiership and in Europe," Lerner said.

Aston Villa finished 16th in the Premiership last season, and the team's coach, David O'Leary, jumped ship. The club goes into the season, which kicks off this weekend, with +$50,000 outright WagerWeb.com odds to win the English League.

But the Lerner move has already made an impact in the team. New coach Martin O'Neill, who took over on Aug. 4 and enjoys American football, said he would commit to a long-term deal if the deal with the billionaire goes through.

Lerner has vowed he would provide any resources necessary to turn Aston Villa into one of the top four teams in the Premiership. He said he sees a lot of similarities between Cleveland and Birmingham, where Aston Villa is located.

Lerner took over sole control of the Browns when his father died in 2002.

Lerner should not be surprised with some initial harsh words from some fans. That was the case with Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer. After purchasing English giant Manchester United in 2005, fans protested loudly, worried that the American would be more interested in making money than winning.

As that has clearly not been the case, Lerner could expect a more cordial welcome.

Lerner will replace Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis, who put the team up for sale a year ago. He had been at the helm of the club since 1982, but fans became upset at his lack of financial support for the team's cause.

None of that should be expected with Lerner aboard. And the team will have until Aug. 31 to acquire new players when the transfer window closes.

Before Aston Villa can take the field, there's also a series of meaningful international friendly matches.

England welcomes 2004 European champion Greece to Manchester, and former England captain David Beckham will not be playing. The media darling was not nominated for the team by Coach Steve McClaren, meaning there is a real possibility that Beckham's career with national team is over.

"I will never shut the door on David Beckham's international career. It will never be open ... er, closed," McClaren said.

One player definitely over with his international days is France star Zinedine Zidane. France, the 2006 World Cup runner-up, begins the post-Zidane era at Bosnia-Herzegovina. World Cup champion Italy begins its defense of the crown in a friendly against Croatia.

Germany, the 2006 Cup host, starts the post-Juergen Klinsmann era as Joachim Loew takes over the team in a home match against Sweden. And Brazil travels to Oslo to take on Norway.

Wednesday was also supposed to see Bahrain hosting Lebanon in the Asian Nations Cup. But the Lebanese pulled out of the tournament because of the war in their country.

Speaking of that war, let's get back to the ongoing Champions League saga regarding Israel. UEFA decided that Israeli club Maccabi Haifa's home leg against Liverpool will be played in Kiev. The team was forced to move the match because of fears regarding the continued fighting in Israel and the region.
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