Over the past eight years, Aston Villa, one of the most traditional well-supported clubs in the midlands and Britain have descended into a modern-day farce and sadly are now truly on the brink of freefall.
Tim Sherwood (Villa’s fifth manager in as many years) was dismissed on the 25th October after little more than eight months in charge of the club. At the time they were sitting in 19th place, four points adrift of safety.
The club then moved quickly to secure the services of former Lyon manager Remi Garde on a three and a half year deal. Unfortunately, for the 1982 European Cup winning club, since the Frenchman’s arrival the first team’s form worsened from poor and lacklustre to desperate and toothless.
Garde leaves with only two wins and 12 defeats from 20 games, that 10% win ratio the lowest for any Villa manager who has been in charge for at least 15 games, even worse that the 18.4% for Alex McLeish, who won only seven of his 38 games.
As hopeless as the Frenchman’s reign has proved, Remi Garde can rightfully point to the lack of January transfer activity as a major factor in their fate being sealed so early in the season.
Loan deals for CSKA Moscow striker Seydou Doumbia and Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic failed to materialise and the spirit began sapping from the ranks. Aston Villa’s first relegation in their Premier League history was consequently sealed on the 16th April 2016 after a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford.
The blunt reality behind Villa’s plight is that they have been a club in serious decline from the day of Martin O’Neil’s shock walkout in August 2010. The past 6 years since have been dominated by a series of poor managerial appointments, ill-judged transfer policies and significant fan discontent; a slow tale of woe that has resulted in the inevitable slide in the Championship for such a great club.
Ex-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier was the first appointment post-Martin O’Neil which produced a solid if unspectacular campaign finishing 9th. Continuing health issues forced the Frenchman to resign by mutual consent on the 1st June 2011.
Lerner’s next appointment proved to be beginning of the end as far as the Villa faithfuls’ relationship with the American was concerned. He moved swiftly to appoint Alex McLeish, much to the fans complete disgust, only five days after leaving bitter local rivals Birmingham City. Vigilant protests were held outside Villa Park and anti-McLeish graffiti had to be removed from the training ground. Owner-fan relations had already hit an all-time low. The campaign proved to be a dismal season; finishing in 16th place and producing a win percentage of 18% from the 38 games.
Paul Lambert was the next to suffer in the hot-seat, surprisingly lasting two and a half seasons at the Villa. In the same period the owner’s long-term commitment to the club and transfer policies took a desperate turn for the worst whilst the fans resentment to the hierarchy turned further into hostility and despair.
A significant drain away of talent (mostly for top dollar transfer fees) has hurt the squad’s quality on the pitch and ability to compete in the top division.
Ashley Young went to Manchester United for £17m in June 2011, Stewart Downing to Liverpool for £20m in July 2011 and only last summer, main goalscorer Christian Benteke joined Liverpool for £32.5m whilst captain Fabian Delph was another off – to Manchester City for £8m.
Incomings to the club have been active throughout Lerner’s tenure but for hugely overpriced players identified in the foreign markets who have looked so far off the pace and unsuited to the English game it has been questioned by all quarters as to who has been responsible for identifying these players.
In the summer of 2015, £30 million was spent on Adama Traore, Jordan Veretout, Jordan Ayew and Jordan Amavi. Between this quartet, a desperately poor return of eight goals has been the outcome and has reflected the tale of their relegation season this year.
Fans understandably feel that non-football businessman are in charge of their club and fear they are on the brink of complete freefall. The American owner is a detached and disconnected figure around the club and has been searching for a buyer since the club was put on the market in July 2014.
Since relegation has been mathematically confirmed, the boardroom has undergone a re-shuffle with West Midlands businessman Steve Hollis acting as chairman. Ex-Villa striker and manager Brian Little has also joined the boardroom; an appointment seen by many around the club as a unlikely positive, albeit one that is overdue and frankly too late.
Any change in future fortunes next season will arise from the top down. The board must appoint the right man. A personality who will be charismatic and experienced enough to take on board a tapered, low-on-confidence squad and deal with the poisonous atmosphere that has perturbed the club for the past eight years. This is an appointment they simply have to get right.