Aston Villa were once a great club and it’s actually quite sad to say ”once” because they have been European champions in my lifetime; I was too young to remember, but it happened. The club drifted in the 1980’s, before flirting with degrees of success for periods during the 1990’s and the late 2000’s under Martin O’Neill. Now though, they are a club more than drifting, they are in danger of spiralling.
The departure of Remi Garde as manager this week was the news that had been on the cards since the club failed to back him in the January transfer window. His frustration at the lack of support from the board was clear, he was understandably furious at effectively being made a sitting duck and was said to be considering his future.
Whilst Garde may not have had the impact he’d have liked on results, to call him the worst manager in Premier League history or blame him for Villa’s impending relegation is, at best, misguided. Garde carved out a good reputation in France, built on developing young players, his decision to take the poisoned chalice at Villa Park was poor judgement at that point in his career. Like Gary Neville, sacked this week at Valencia, neither of their managerial capabilities should be defined by their misguided judgement in taking on jobs that were unsuitable at that particular point in their careers and their failure to succeed at them.
Certainly at Villa, the damage that had started in previous years in the boardroom was accelerated by Tim Sherwood and the disastrous transfer business the club did last summer. Actually, let me clarify that, the purchases they made were disastrous, the sales were admirable. To get over £40m for Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph is worthy of congratulation. I’ve said this before, Benteke is an above average Premier League player sold for star player money; however, to replace him with an above average Championship striker was a blunder of the highest order. For all Delph is average, he at least offered Villa something and to not replace that was another costly blunder.
In Villa’s current plight, it seems Sherwood and his role in it has been forgotten. He initially did a decent job for them when he was appointed last year, he allowed them more attacking freedom, but his blasé outward confidence could only hide his tactical ineptitude for so long. The brash strutting and fist-pumping passion had no substance to it and limited shelf life of blowing smoke quickly expired. The football Villa played under Paul Lambert was tough to watch, but he did have them organised and difficult to beat; he was fulfilling a requirement to maintain Premier League status on as little funds as possible. Once he left and Villa discarded the drab drilling and organisation, they became easier to play against, not a good trait to have. Combine that with mostly poor acquisitions in the summer transfer window and you have easy pickings for most Premier League sides.
So, from the board showing such little ambition for years, to Sherwood’s shortcomings, to Garde’s inability to alter their fortunes, to the board giving up and refusing to back the manager in January, Villa are in a mess. This once great club stands on the precipice and the fall to the Championship might just be the beginning. The plight of traditional clubs like Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United could be what lies in store for Aston Villa. The Villa fans are understandably upset with owner Randy Lerner and the board’s performance in running the club over the past few years and them effectively throwing the towel in on their fight, only half way through the season. Former FA Executive Adrian Bevington joined the club earlier this week and it will be interesting what influence he has and if he can make any difference to the decisions being made at boardroom level.
The proud and strong Villa fan base could have more misery in store if the board do not get the next managerial appointment right. They need a man with the nous and experience of the war of attrition that is the Football League Championship, someone who can change the mentality of the dressing room and bring in players suitable to the fight that lies ahead if they are to turn around the fortunes of a once great club potentially staring into the abyss.