Aston Villa are the fifth most decorated club in English football. Seven time League winners, seven time FA Cup champions, five time League Cup holders and once upon a time, the champions of European football.
Trophies flooded in thick and fast for Villa during the 1970’s and early 90’s, with the likes of Mortimer, Cowans and McGrath causing delirium amongst the Claret and Blue of Birmingham. A footballing dynasty was born, and it seemed the legacy would go on to challenge the peak of footballing power for years to come.
Fast forward 20 years, and the Aston Villa nowadays is unrecognisable to the glory days of yesteryear. Managerial casualties have become a common occurrence – with Tim Sherwood being the latest ejection from the seemingly doomed hot seat at Villa Park – and a team who have always been associated with competing at the top of the table, are now facing another desperate scramble to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
But just how have one of England’s finest clubs faded into football obscurity, and will they ever be able to challenge the superpowers of the English top flight again?
Where has it all gone wrong?
The gloom descended at Villa Park following the departure of Martin O’Neill in 2010. The Irish manager assembled a squad capable of challenging for the Champions League, as the likes of Young, Barry and Mellberg proved to be an imposing presence for the Midlands outfit.
However, issues seemingly turned sour between O’Neill and Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner. A ‘sell to buy’ policy was put in place, and with O’Neill refusing to sell his star performers, the manager’s resignation from the club swiftly followed.
Former Aston Villa manager Graham Taylor stated at the time that he’d ‘been aware of the lack of togetherness behind the scenes‘, which later proved to be a statement significant to several managers following the O’Neill era.
Gerard Houllier was next to be plummeted into the spotlight, but the appointment was unable to become a success due to the manager’s health issues. The Frenchman departed the club after only 9 months in charge, leaving the club in a disappointing 9th position at the end of the 2010/11 season.
Unfortunately for the club, it was paramount that Aston Villa regained stability following the resignation of O’Neill. The Irish manager created a respectable force during his four years at the club, and it needed a committed successor to refocus the squad and set long term ambitions for the club’s future. The circumstances surrounding the departure of Houllier were not anybody’s fault, but it meant that the next manager was given an even harder task to rebuild the team.
THE INABILITY TO FIND A LONG TERM SUCCESSOR FOLLOWING O’NEILL CREATED A GREATER STRUGGLE FOR SUCCESS EVERY SEASON
Alex McLeish was next to face the unenviable task at Aston Villa, but unfortunately for the ex Birmingham manager, many could have predicted his eventual fate. He was sacked after 11 months in charge, finishing just above the relegation zone and winning only four out of nineteen home games.
Many have criticised Lerner over the appointment of McLeish. Being an ex Birmingham manager, he was destined to fail with seemingly every avenue at the club directing him to the exit. The squad needed serious rebuilding, and external pressures could have distracted the manager from the matter at hand.
Although McLeish should hold some responsibility, Lerner bares the brunt of this failure due to his irrational and somewhat uneducated reasoning behind appointing the Scot.
It became apparent for Lerner that stability would be paramount for success. Paul Lambert – the next Villa manager – lasted three years at the club, but in this case he probably should have been relieved off his duties much earlier.
Lambert guided the club to successive fifteenth place finishes – a clear indication that Aston Villa were enveloped in problems stemming from deep within club.
Lerner became disillusioned under the reign of Lambert. Villa fans chanted the name of Lambert during McLeish’s final fixture at Carrow Road, leaving Lerner no option but to appoint the Norwich City manager. Therefore, despite poor result after poor result, Lerner felt compelled to remain faithful to the fan’s desires.
This was a familiar trend under Lerner, as the American sacked McLeish largely due to fan pressure. Lerner soon found out that although fans are essential for running a football club, they should not determine how to run a football club.
although fans are essential for success, they should not be responsible for determining success
The latest casualty at Villa Park was former Spurs boss Tim Sherwood. The 46 year old briefly created a buzz around Villa Park, leading his team to an FA Cup final against Arsenal and securing Premier League survival.
However, several costly defeats against the Gunners, Leicester and West Brom saw the axe fall on Sherwood – an all too familiar sight for the Birmingham club.
The appointment of Sherwood had every ingredient for success – a determined, charismatic and strong willed leader with fresh ideas and a positive philosophy towards the game. However, the departures of Benteke and Delph were not replaced adequately despite several big money acquisitions, now leaving Aston Villa with a squad as weak as it’s ever been.
Whoever is next to take charge may now face a nearly impossible job.
Can Aston Villa bounce back?
If Aston Villa are hoping for a quick rise to stardom, they will certainly be left disappointed. The next manager will inherit a squad lacking character and quality, so survival will be the objective again this year.
It will take vast amounts of money for Aston Villa to return to the top, and even with this, it will need an experienced manager to invest wisely into the squad. Liverpool are a prime example, as millions have been invested in average players leaving them languishing outside the top four.
Question marks also surround the owner. Some extremely puzzling decisions made by Lerner make us wonder if he understands English football at all, and his lack of investment in the club does not create a positive omen.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that quality players, an experienced manager and a wealthy owner are the key factors for success in football. However, no foundation has been set to put this ambition into motion. It seems the club has become content with mediocrity, which may leave Aston Villa perilously hovering in the bottom half of the Premier League for many seasons to come.
Revisit the glory days of Aston Villa below, as they conquer Bayern Munich in the 1982 European Cup Final.