I keep reading that this was a season to forget for Aston
Villa. To that, I say ‘good luck trying’. It will be etched into our collective minds
forever more, whether we like it or not.
These scars, like after any major trauma, will be difficult to heal.
The sale of the club to Chinese businessman Tony Xia has to
be the medicine required to salvage Villa fans enduring years of decay. It’s apt that Xia should deal in
Whilst the 2015/16 season is not likely to be something
anyone wants to reflect on at any great length, our collapse must be used as a
tool from which we can learn.
good “burying bad news” or “drawing a line”; our slide into obscurity has been
a catalogue of consistently poor errors.
Many of which have been repeated & self inflicted.
Aston Villa has been peripheral within the elite teams of
football for longer than any of us would care to admit. Our history is grand, but increasingly older
than many of our supporters. Some of
those finer moments pre-date the First World War.
Our European Cup win is a rightful reference point to our stature, but
increasingly used merely to illustrate just how far we have fallen.
Learning from our successes or our mistakes hasn’t been
something that as a club we have been very good at. This isn’t anything particularly new or
confined to the recent ownership either.
In fact it has been a constant during both the Doug Ellis and Randy
Whether it was the late redevelopment of Bodymoor Heath,
after our rivals had long since improved their own facilities. Or the unbelievable appointment of our bitter local
rivals manager, Alex McLeish. The disjointed
strategy for re-building juxtaposed stands at Villa Park. Or repeatedly tying ourselves into lengthy
player contracts; we never learn and rarely do we act with any great wisdom.
To compliment an institutional inability to change, the
hierarchy has often thrown crass ineptitude into the mix for good measure. The latter has been a particular specialism
of Randy Lerner.
For a man with access to the best advice, learned opinion and
professional acumen that money can buy, the billionaire American made some
astonishingly poor decisions. Either by
himself or via proxy figures such as former Chief Executive Tom Fox, Lerner has arrived at conclusions
that have stood at odds with the majority view or logic entirely.
Take Aston Villa’s transfer policies. Note this concept is plural.
We’re never really settled on one approach to the serious
business of acquiring playing staff.
Under Martin O’Neill, Villa infamously spent frivolously on
both transfer fees and player salaries.
An outlay that arguably cripples the club both financially and in its
ability to exercise judgement on purchases to this day.
Then came patches of fraught austerity as Lerner discovered
the true price of O’Neill’s failure.
After the infamous pre-season walkout, losing the subsequent employment
tribunal and the disarray this departure set in motion, it unmasked the fact
Aston Villa had squandered it’s big chance.
Not only had countless millions been frittered on a playing squad
capable of at best a 6th place finish, but that we were also stuck with
them, some for years.
It’s easy to look back with some revisionism, but this
‘Bright Future’ period was at best ‘So Close, yet so far’. For all of the great singular moments that it
brought, it can be countered with disappointment, no, under-achievement, in
As such, inevitable, enforced restraint loomed large. But it has never been without contradictions.
Despite the cut backs, the cavalier approach never went
away, with desperate purchases such as Darren Bent for £24 million pounds under
Gerard Houllier a perfect example.
Bent’s goals were a necessary roll of the dice to keep our top flight
status when all of the indications pointed towards relegation. Yet, only Aston Villa could secure a goal
machine in Bent and find itself having to sell the creativity from which he excelled.
Even Alex McLeish, charged with nothing other than keeping
us in the Premier League on a shoestring was rewarded with Charles
N’Zogbia. The Frenchman quite
comfortably stands as the defining example of both our inability to pick a
player to move the club forward, but also our ability to reward failure
To compound the hapless financial errors of our ways, the entire
transfer strategy has flitted erratically.
Under Paul Lambert the drive was to develop promising youth from the
lower domestic leagues. There was no
disguising that this policy was an attempt to invest on the cheap, bring on and
sell for profit. Joe Bennett, Matthew
Lowton, Ashley Westwood & Jordan Bowery.
Mixed fortunes indeed, especially when compared to the
Belgian Christian Benteke acquired during the same spell.
Spin the Aston Villa transfer Tombola once more and we reach
the rationale applied under the direction of Paddy Reilly. Mr Moneyball.
Villa’s summer 2015 transfers, funded by the sale of Delph, aforementioned
Benteke & £23 million more from Lerner’s family purse lurched us yet
further. It was the final ill-conceived
attempt to round up youngsters, this time from mainland Europe, in the hope
they would better the club in the short term and be sold on for a financial
Suffice to say it failed.
Miserably & predictably.
If the intention was to terminate the footballing standard
at the club and financially destabilise us to the point that we couldn’t act in
January 2016, then it succeeded.
Our relegation should be of no surprise, other than that it
has taken 5 years of professional incompetency to achieve. Indeed, the good fortune we have had is that
there has conveniently been three poorer teams in previous seasons.
The very fact that the football club became unashamedly
focused upon survival is an indictment alone.
We had moved to the untenable & unenviable position of seasonal
relegation candidates, inflicting a huge wound to our own hopes of survival
year on year.
What ambitious and up and coming footballer with anything
about them wants to sign for a club aiming for fourth bottom? It’s also the elephant in the room that the key
motivator in our securing signatures has been offering top dollar. If an individual’s motivation for being in
Birmingham is money alone, then the writing was on the wall long ago.
And so, it was for these reasons that our luck ran out. It was a nightmarish season.
I had attempted to rationalise it into some format. An order if you like. However, it defied both. It also raises blood pressure and in an
attempt to save my precious readership, I have fashioned an abridged version of
As such, a ‘Terrifying List of Failure’ seems to capture
A 6-0 loss at home to Liverpool, the worst
defeat suffered from a visiting side at Villa Park in over 80 years. On TV.
More 4-0 defeats than I care to recall.
The most home defeats in a season.
Knowing with absolute certainly that when we
inevitably conceded the first goal that the game was lost and that the floodgates
A club Captain in Joleon Lescott openly goading
fans childishly via social media.
Lescott (Again) and Guzan verbally abusing
supporters having failed to beat a League 1 side in the League Cup.
Jores Okore refusing to take up a place on the bench.
Having to recall Aly Cissokho from Porto as
there was no-one capable of playing left back.
Arguably improving us, yet still being terrible.
The utter refusal to play any youngsters.
Gabby Agonlahor smoking Shisha in Dubai,
partying & getting high on the night of our relegation. Front and back page ridicule.
Jack Grealish passing out in a street in
Tenerife and never suggesting a return to the form shown in the culmination of
the 2014/15 season.
Tim Sherwood badly losing his way. Remi Garde’s inexplicable arrival and the
immediate realisation that the Frenchman’s appointment was a relegation
confirming error of judgement.
Charles N’Zogbia; relegated to the under-21’s,
yet sitting on Twitter in Miami taking the p!ss.
An empty Villa Park for the Man City &
Wycombe cup fixtures. Declining
The attempts by the club to stifle supporter
unrest & suppress free speech; wrestling banners from fans in front of the
gaze of the media.
The appointment of a new board, only to witness
them publicly resign in spectacular fashion mere weeks later, citing untenable
The clubs decision to accept relegation in
January and decision not to sign anybody in the transfer window. Even misleading then coach Remi Garde, having
failed to make contact with his proposed targets.
Libor Kozak breaking an ankle having returned
after two years on the sidelines.
Announced AFTER the transfer window closed.
Leandro Bacuna somehow playing professional
football for Aston Villa every, single, week.
Eleven straight defeats under incomprehensibly
bad caretaker boss Eric Black.
Cheering opposition goals.
Celebrating winning a corner.
Becoming a target of “sympathy” from opposing
It’s dreadful. Each
point in turn makes painful reading, but the facts are the facts, and yet it’s not
even an exhaustive list.
At the opening of this piece I said that our football club
must learn from its mistakes. This
absolutely has to be the case under our new ownership. The club is broken after years of neglect,
shell-shocked after relegation, in desperate need of fresh ideas and requires
nothing short of an unerring determination to change.
The ethos and culture of failure at Aston Villa has become
firmly embedded. We have become
accustomed to a losing mentality and a fan base that has understandably become
apathetic to the point of mocking it’s own players.
Think back to “better” times and this is unimaginable.
Could you envisage a scenario whereby McGrath, Teale,
Townsend, Barry, Mellberg, Laursen, Mortimer, Saunders, Yorke, Taylor, Withe,
Morley, Petrov failed us to the point of the current crop? It was as unfathomable in their own eras then as it is
This last season will be impossible to forget for all of these
reasons. It has been a long time coming
and an absolute train wreck from start to finish.
Can our new owner rejuvenate us immediately? I don’t think it’s that easy without
wholesale change. Change like we have
never witnessed before, where what we have been through is no longer tolerated
or rewarded, but mercilessly culled for not being the way that Aston Villa
wishes to be.
Aston Villa shouldn’t be held to ransom by Charles N’Zogbia. It shouldn’t be brought into disrepute by
undesirable characters like Lescott or Agbonlahor. Nor should it make rich, undeserving men wealthier
beyond their dreams, whilst the streets around our great city show growing queues
Aston Villa was founded on better than this & would do
well to re-educate itself as to its purpose for existing in the first place.
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