Hyder Jawad talks to the Villa chairman and owner, Randy Lerner.
Randy Lerner's flight out of Ohio was diverted from Birmingham Airport to East Midlands. He emerged from his jet, mildly groggy but ebullient, to an expanse of white. It reminded him of home.
"Hey, it can snow a lot more than this in Cleveland," he says, with an accent that might pass for a Midwestern nasal twang.
Taking sanctuary inside the Aston Villa training ground at Bodymoor Heath, Lerner cuts an unpretentious figure.
It is easy to forget that he owns this 25-acre plot of Warwickshire. It is easy to forget that he owns Aston Villa FC outright. It is easy to forget that his entire personal wealth amounts to more than #750 million.
He does not write all of the cheques for Aston Villa — unlike Doug Ellis, the previous chairman of the club, apparently — but he does write the ones that matter; the ones that allow Martin O'Neill to sign players of international quality.
O'Neill is the Villa manager, an equally charming and unpretentious man, and now, reluctantly, the public face of the club. You see, Lerner does not do celebrity. It is not his style.
But even he realises that six months out of the limelight was too much, if only to prove that, yes, there is a person behind the name.
"I don't believe I belong in the media and I fundamentally do not believe that owning a team is a media platform," Lerner says. "That's not why I'm here. I philosophically believe that ownership is most akin to governance. Ownership is more a noun than a verb; you do not go around owning all day.
"Instead you have very serious responsibilities, full-time responsibilities, to direct on strategic initiatives. But with that comes accountability.
"We have a professional team that's driven by a very specific philosophy as well. I feel it's important that if you ask top people to come to the club, you have to give them real jobs and let them do what they're paid to do.
"Why have I been so reticent? I didn't feel that, until now, the timing was right. I wanted to make sure that the transfer window was closed, so I wouldn't be in a position to talk about things that I was not sure would happen. I didn't want to speculate.
"I don't want to create the expectation that I am out there, eager to deal with matters through the media. I don't want to do that. On the other hand, I am not hard to find. I am not trying to be reclusive."
There is certainly a confidence in his voice and an eagerness to come across as the regular guy, the bloke next to whom you would sit in the reception of a doctor's surgery.
It is no mean feat. Such wealth would corrupt most men but, then, Lerner has grown used to it. He was born into wealth but then, through careful financial speculation, made money in his own right. He has not known poverty.
When he signed the #8 million cheque that enabled O'Neill to purchase Ashley Young from Watford, Lerner did not flinch.
"The money I have spent on players has come from my personal pocket, yes," he says. "I have no intention and no marker set for when I would stop spending. I don't have a number in my mind; nothing like that.
"What I do have is a commercial plan that is supported by new executives who are intending to do their level best to go some way to funding player costs. That is the goal. When we execute that plan, it will be a lot easier."
Lerner's dialogue is strewn with business-speak, but that is the American way. He does not, thankfully, talk in football cliches but it is also fair to say that the game is not yet part of his fabric.
He is, however, quick to shatter misconceptions. He does not see Villa as a vehicle to make more money. The club was his first and only choice. He does enjoy football for its own sake.
"I did not consider the possibility of approaching other football clubs, not really," he says. "No. What happened to me was that I sat with some guys, some friends in London who are in the business of thinking about football clubs and it was always about Aston Villa.
"Other clubs were mentioned in the conversation but it was always about Aston Villa, because Villa was the right opportunity. I initiated everything and the General [Charles Krulak, now a Villa director] helped me out, because he had contacts.
"I had met Mohammed Al-Fayed [Fulham owner] two years before and had dinner with him. And I heard all about Fulham FC, that I can assure you . . ."
Lerner breaks off and laughs. What he chooses not to say might be more interesting than what he has just said, but he is too much the diplomat.
There are political leanings within his family. His father, Alfred, was an advisor on foreign affairs to George W Bush, the United States president, and the family has donated large sums of money to Bush's Republican Party. This is no surprise. Most white American males in their 40s are politically right-wing.
Lerner does not flaunt his views, just as he does not flaunt his wealth. But in the transfer market, where wealth is as important as judgment, he is a useful addition to Villa's existence.
So why English football? Why Aston Villa?
"I had been interested in, and eager to be involved with, the Premier League over, I would say, the past five years," he says.
"The basis for that interest is probably simply a combination of having some background in England. Secondly, I am a very, very big fan of English football. I thought it was the right time for me, in terms of just where I am in my career.
"Then there is just the chance element to this. A set of circumstances converged and it seemed to make sense. I wouldn't say it was a burning need, it wasn't a long, protracted acquisition; it wasn't a deeply complex sort of financial gymnastics.
"It was available and I thought it was the right time. I wanted to do it and felt we had done our research. I felt I knew what I was getting myself into and I called up Mr Ellis. That simple."
The problem for Villa is that other rich Americans are beginning to see the benefits of what Lerner calls "English Premier League football". Manchester United are now owned by Americans and, after a dramatic takeover this week, so are Liverpool.
"Can I see more American owners coming into the Premiership? I couldn't possibly tell you," Lerner says. "I have never met the Liverpool owners in my life but I know of them. They are very accomplished men with wonderful careers; serious people.
"Liverpool — in terms of its geography, its history, the silverware they have won, where they play, what they sing, the Kop — is a very unique package.
"We have a different geography and a different set of expectations and a different collection of silverware and a different set of characteristics and factors that will form our decisions."
When making these decisions, it helps that there is unity at Villa Park. When Villa played their first home match of the season, against Newcastle United last August, the supporters spent as much time chanting for Lerner as they did for O'Neill.
Given the abuse that Ellis consistently received from fans, it was a significant turnaround.
And then there was the football itself, swift and passionate; liable to cause pain and pleasure, usually at the same time.
"My overwhelming sense of my time here so far is of the intensity of the games; just the sheer energy and non-stop pace, almost on a tribal level; the drum-beating," Lerner says.
"We drove down to Portsmouth, then to Egerton [sic... Everton] . . . It is completely different here [in England]. The games are presented differently, the stadiums are different, the pace of the games is different. It is very, very different.
"I've certainly learned a lot, no doubt about that. I wasn't entirely foreign to the game — to the pace, the idiosyncrasies — but it's been a learning curve, certainly.
"There is nothing from American sport that I felt I could bring here. We have had the opportunity for organisers to go to America, given that there is a break in matches. These people will have a chance to spend a few days with the [Cleveland] Browns [the National Football League team Lerner owns] . But it would be wrong and misleading to suggest anything other than this is a chance for people to compare notes. This will be football people, not commercial people. It will be to see other forms of technology and look at opportunities."
Lerner says that there is an indifference in Ohio to his takeover of Villa and no suggestion that work in England will affect his work with the Browns. And as for suggestions that he is planning to sell the naming rights to Villa Park, forget it.
"Naming rights? Does that include an offer for one of the stands? Or does that mean Villa Park becoming the Dorito Bowl? For example, if Nike wanted the North Stand, is that naming rights? Or standing rights?
"We are not changing the name of Villa Park. And we are not opening a super-casino. We are not in the casino business. In fact, I have never been inside a casino."
A dig at Birmingham City? If so, Randy Lerner is the only American I have met who does irony.