Just how long is needed to complete the takeover of a football club?
In the case of Portsmouth a few weeks ago, it was about a fortnight. With Aston Villa, it's almost as long as the gestation period of a baby humpbacked camel. At the moment, it's more than five months and counting.
Aston Villa seems to be attracting the bulk of the negative publicity in the wake of the stalled proposal from the Comer Brothers, the Irish property developers. The feeling is that the club is languishing, not keeping the supporters informed. Villa's public relations antennae are more blunted than usual, and that's saying a lot.
I believe that's unfair on Villa. The club was approached by the lifelong Villa supporter Michael Neville on behalf of the Comers early in September and the consortium has made the running since then, with occasional forays into the public domain. The impression has grown that Doug Ellis is grimly hanging onto power, reluctant to hand over the reins to the young, thrusting visionaries who will catapult Aston Villa back into the upper echelons of British clubs.
But the consortium appears to have made little headway in the intervening months. We were told that 'due diligence' was a stumbling block. In other words, both parties would be looking at each other's books, working out financial viabilities.
The delay appears to reflect poorly on Villa.
Yet I understand all that was done and dusted some time ago and that there no skeletons in Villa's financial cupboard. It was established that Villa is a club run on a sound footing, something not even Ellis' harshest detractors would contest.
So why are the Comers taking so long to come up with a bid? None of the parties concerned has quibbled at the reported amount of #64 million that is involved yet the consortium still has not tabled an offer.
Doug Ellis wants to sell to a group that has the best interests of Villa at heart, but although he's slowing up mentally and physically, he's not daft enough to be cavalier at this stage of the negotiations. But he's not yet in possession of anything concrete. Meanwhile 309 employees of Aston Villa FC are operating in an uncertain atmosphere, with the manager and coaching staff in the dark about any possible expansion plans.
On that specific basis, it's even possible to have sympathy for David O'Leary as he starts to consider his summer targets and timetable.
Those who bemoan any detailed public comment from Aston Villa, fatalistically saying it's no more than they expect, ought to be aware of the Stock Exchange regulations when a takeover is mooted.
During a takeover period, any party directly involved cannot make public comments which could influence the share price. And Doug Ellis is fanatically scrupulous about that. Any time I see him, he swiftly changes the conversation when the Comer Brothers are mentioned.
One question that needs to be answered by the Comers is this why do they want to buy a football club? There is available about 20 acres of land surrounding Villa Park comprising Villa's Sport and Leisure Club and car park, as well as a derelict site so why not go for that and forget the football side of things? After all, property development is the Comers' forte, not reviving a football club.
It would be much cheaper for them to forget the Villa takeover and just vacuum up the adjoining land. Perhaps they feel they'll get onside with the council by reviving a famous football club while carrying out their usual day job of developing land.
Surely all this isn't as complicated to warrant such a saga. The Villa board acted shrewdly a month ago in trying to flush out the Comers by announcing that Rothschilds, the famous merchant bank, were now actively seeking other potential buyers. But since then, the consortium is still appearing to drag its heels.
Ellis wants to sell. The fans are resigned to the familiar inertia. But this time it's not the fault of the club. As it stands, there's nothing happening that justifies a comment from Aston Villa.
Butt can shine again after his darkest hour
Nicky Butt completely boxed himself in when he staged his walk-out on Birmingham City last week. What had been known locally became common knowledge nationally that his decline as a player continues.
Newcastle's supporters won't be surprised that Butt wasn't considered good enough to get into a weakened Blues' XI for the match at West Ham United.
They had been mystified by his poor form last season, climaxing in a pallid performance against his old club, Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final.
The feeling on Tyneside was that Butt never wanted to leave Old Trafford.
In common with many others, I thought Butt was a good signing last summer. Steve Bruce has known him for almost 20 years, having played in the same United team and he was more likely to get the best out of this shy person than Graeme Souness.
Underneath Butt's diffident exterior, there's a steely competitor and in Bruce's opinion a fine professional who gives his best. Well, he let himself down last week and the legion of Blues' supporters who have despaired of Butt will feel a smidgeon of self-justification.
The issue may have been complicated by the presence of the manager's son in the starting line-up for the West Ham match, a young defender preferred to a man who played so staunchly in the England midfield during the 2002 World Cup. But Alex Bruce had played well in the game before, the FA Cup-tie against Reading, while Butt had been injured three days earlier against Arsenal.
Butt wasn't dropped against West Ham, he was set to be one of the substitutes. Young Bruce's extra mobility and defensive solidity was deemed a better option than a fading 31-year-old against the pace, young legs and drive of Haydn Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker in West Ham's midfield.
Bruce didn't play badly and there was no reason to believe that the Nicky Butt of recent vintage would have fared better. To suggest that the manager was guilty of nepotism is insulting.
As one of his coaching staff told Steve Bruce, 'He's in the first-team squad, we've got injuries and suspensions. If you're not going to play Alex, what's the point of him being here?'
It's a dilemma that's been faced by managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp, Kenny Dalglish and Brian Clough. No one surely believes that Steve Bruce would be swayed by parental concerns, especially with Blues in such a parlous state.
Butt's eclipse tells us much about the speed and energy of Premiership football and what can happen when an experienced player of international pedigree gets slightly off the pace.
His passing has disintegrated, while his tackling lacks the crispness of old. He is shrivelling before our eyes.
I can sympathise with Butt. At his best, he was an effective, intelligent midfield player who knew his limitations. He'd break up an attack with a good tackle, look at his options and see David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard or Michael Owen wanting the ball, in space.
Top players find that space instinctively and solid performers without an ego like Nicky Butt have the sense to give them the ball.
The options in midfield are more attractive and fulfilling when you're playing for Manchester United and England than labouring for Birmingham City.
As he strives to regain form and confidence, Butt appears to me to be operating outside his preferred zone of effectiveness, the role in which he is most comfortable.
He knows that he is playing out his career with teammates that are inferior to those of his days of the United treble in 1999, but he can't acknowledge that.
Butt has to soldier on, hoping to win over the Blues' supporters by playing well. But he can only do that by reverting to the simple method that made him an international.
He is not an imaginative passer, nor the type that glides past opponents. Protecting the back four, breaking up the opposition attacks with well-timed tackles and releasing team-mates in productive areas are his strengths.
But has he lost it for good? Even seasoned internationals praised to the skies by Pele fade away. The next couple of months will test the mettle of a player who has many unpromising cards stacked against him.
But if he can win the crowd over at St Andrew's, Butt deserves respect. Blues' style is that of the blue-collar worker, where hard graft is expected.
Butt is no stranger to the sweat-stained shirt in his career and his redemption is in his own hands. He made an encouraging start on the road back at Stoke on Sunday.
If Blues avoid relegation, then he will not be returning to Newcastle. That was one of the terms in his loan move last summer. So it's up to Nicky Butt to work his passage back. Does he want to stay at Birmingham or retire under a cloud?
He certainly doesn't need the money as an incentive to play on. Professional pride will be the dominating factor in his thinking.
It can't get any worse for Nicky Butt at the moment, but what was that about 'out of darkness, cometh light'?
Mourinho owes much to smiling fortune
As Jose Mourinho basks in the attention this week surrounding the glamour tie of the Champions' League against Barcelona, his mind just possibly might wander to the luck that took him to Chelsea.
Almost two years ago, Mourinho took his Porto side to Old Trafford to play Manchester United. Although 2-1 up from the first leg, Porto weren't fancied to progress to the last eight of the Champions' League. And with United taking them to the cleaners for the vast majority of the return leg, Mourinho couldn't complain at imminent elimination.
Except for two fortuitous moments. Leading deservedly from a Paul Scholes header, United appeared to make it two on the stroke of half-time, courtesy of the same player. But a linesman flagged Scholes offside, even though TV replays clearly demonstrated that he was at least a yard on-side.
No matter. United were coasting in the last minute, set to proceed on the strength of their away goal. Then their goalkeeper Tim Howard committed a howler. He couldn't hold Benni McCarthy's free-kick and in the ensuing melee, Costinha equalised.
There was barely time to re-start the game before the final whistle. As Mourinho cavorted down the touchline, with his coat flapping, Sir Alex Ferguson looked aghast. It was ridiculous that United had gone out and for once, it was no hardship to feel sorry for the Govan patriarch.
Howard has barely featured since then in United's first team, while Ferguson and most of his players have seen their lustre dimmed. Meanwhile Chelsea and their charismatic coach have stolen the clothes of every other contending club in England and soon Europe, I expect.
Porto went on to win the Champions' League in 2004 when United were justified in believing they were the best team. Mourinho's stock rose and rose and Chelsea came calling, waving millions of pounds in his face.
Would he have been their prime target had he not just won the Champions' League? A dozy linesman and a dodgy American goalkeeper played key roles in his emergence. Perhaps Mourinho might care to nod in the direction of Dame Fortune as he plays his tiresome mind games this week.