The race to buy out Doug Ellis is hotting up nicely after it became clear that Aston Villa are being eyed from as far away as the United States.
Reports of lifelong Villa fan Michael Neville's renewed attempt to buy the club, ten months after first showing his hand, has awakened new interest from American billionaire Randy Lerner.
Villa chairman Ellis is due to return to the Midlands from his yacht in the Mediterranean today to meet Lerner, who already owns a major American Football club, the National Football League's Cleveland Browns.
After having contract with Irish property developers the Comer brothers through Neville last summer, the Solihullbased businessman is confident of acquiring fresh backing. But he faces competition, as Lerner is also reported to be willing to meet Ellis's reduced asking price of about #57million, which has dropped by #7million from the initially mooted figure of #64million following Villa's recent sale of land.
Lerner is believed to be an admirer of California-based Jurgen Klinsmann, now free after resigning as Germany coach following the World Cup. But, more pertinently, both parties are fans of Martin O'Neill, who has emerged as the hot favourite for the manager's job.
While the appointment of O'Neill is what Villa's fans most anxiously crave, the one thing he would need is the green light to manage without unnecessary interference from boardroom level - and he may still need convincing that those working conditions would be available under Ellis.
But, reluctant though he would be to step down, the 82-year-old chairman may finally have sensed that the time is right - 24 years after returning to the club for his second spell at the helm.
Last week's statement to the Stock Exchange confirmed there had been approaches from abroad and the United Kingdom to buy Villa, who are badly in need of a massive cash injection. An unnamed Saudi Arabia-based consortium is also understood to be considering an approach but it is the new involvement of 44-year-old Lerner, who has an estimated $1.2 billion fortune and is chairman of credit card giants MBNA, which has created most excitement.
Speculation has abounded that Lerner actually visited Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground yesterday in the company of Steve Stride, the chief operations officer, but the club refused to comment, other than issuing a short statement that said: "We have nothing to say over renewed speculation about the future of Aston Villa."
Meanwhile, Villa continue their pre-season preparations against Hull City at the KC Stadium tonight without four of their foreign contingent.
Injury-ravaged Patrik Berger has already suffered a blow, having picked up a calf strain in the first fortnight of pre-season training. His compatriot Milan Baros, whose future at the club is still in doubt, has returned from World Cup duty still suffering from the foot injury he sustained in the Czech Republic's final group match in Germany a month ago.
Both are being targeted for the week-long tour to Germany and Holland, starting in 11 days, so will miss not only tonight's match at Hull but Saturday's Steve Bull testimonial against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
Sweden captain Olof Mell-berg returned to training only last Wednesday and is being saved for Molineux on Saturday but Martin Laursen is still being nursed along, having not yet been given a date to return to action.
"He's been out ten months," said caretaker manager Roy Aitken. "We've not even thought about when he might start a game.
"At the moment, he's just sticking to the programme given him by Dr Richard Steadman, the specialist he saw out in Colorado, alternately doing a day's training with the first team, then going back on the weights." n Villa's home match with Newcastle United scheduled for Saturday, August 26 has been put back a day to Sunday, August 27 (2pm).
Which side James Milner will line up for on that day remains open to debate. Despite the departure of manager David O'Leary, Villa remain keen on buying Milner and are understood to be ready to solve Newcastle's search for a striker by offloading the unhappy Juan Pablo Angel in a swap deal.