Originally published in Give Me Sport – 17 April, 2016
With Aston Villa’s official relegation to the Championship, questions will inevitably be asked about what exactly went wrong for the Villains?
Eric Black, the current caretaker manager, will now have the task of leading a dissection of the club’s season performance. With Tim Sherwood being sacked, back in October, and Remi Garde leaving recently, by mutual consent, it will be up to the backroom staff to present a holistic reason for failure.
Fingers could be pointed at the lack of a goal-scorer, the poor defensive display, the lack of team effort, the early inadequacies of Sherwood, or the failure for Garde to grasp management in the Premier League – the list is endless. There is, however, a simple three-step reason that Aston Villa have found themselves pathetically dumped out of the Premier League for the first time in their history.
Step one: lose Ron Vlaar; step two: lose Fabian Delph; step three: lose Christian Benteke.
The argument rumbles on about what role Aston Villa’s secretive transfer committee has at the club. Did it prevent Sherwood from signing the players he wanted in the summer? Did it hamstring Garde in the same way during the January transfer window? Or, perhaps, the two managers simply identified poor targets and they paid the costs.
Disregarding the obvious poor quality of Villa’s 2015/16 signings, it was the players that departed the club that ultimately had the largest effect – relegation.
Randy Lerner has to take a huge amount of blame for Villa’s relegation. He has made it no secret that he wants to sell the club and selling Delph and Benteke, to the tune of around £43 million, was a quick way to help level the books and interest a potential buyer.
On a simpler, pitch level, the loss of Villa’s star players in the summer, gave Sherwood an impossible task.
The departure of Ron Vlaar left a sour taste in the mouths of the former-Spurs boss and fans alike. He was the epitome of leader-on-the-pitch. He was a fearless fighter and a defensive wall. The complete lack of guts, lack of self-belief, and lack of determination so indicative of Villa’s season would not have been seen under the Dutchman’s leadership.
Micah Richards has attempted to become a passionate replacement for club captain. He has outshone the rest of his teammates and can be relatively guilt-free, knowing he did his best and tried to lead his feckless colleagues in resisting relegation. The trouble, however, is that Richards is no Vlaar.
If Vlaar had stayed in Birmingham, it is possible to reason that the Villains might have scraped safety this year and, even if they did still get relegated, it would not have happened so easily. The current players have truly embarrassed themselves by keeling over and allowing a historic club crash out of the world’s most lucrative tournament with barely a raised hand in defiance.
The second big name to depart was Fabian Delph. The England international hardly covered himself in glory in the way he handled the transfer saga, but a stronger effort should have been made to keep him at Villa Park.
Delph brought a calmness and technical ability that has been entirely absent from Villa’s midfield this season. He made things tick and was the dependable channel that all attacks travelled through and which opposition attacks faltered when trying to travel the other way.
The Englishman’s reputation was sullied when he appeared to signify every intention to remain at Villa Park before changing his mind, six days later and opting for an £8 million move to Manchester City. The Villa faithful were more than happy to see him leave after they felt he betrayed them with his seemingly deceitful actions.
The true betrayal, however, was not Delph’s decision to leave but rather the management’s decision to replace the lynchpin player with Jordan Veretout – a relatively unknown player from Nantes.
Veretout has had a poor season and not contributed to the side in any significant manner. Losing Delph essentially crippled the team’s spine and Veretout was never the solution.
Finally, Christian Benteke departed shortly after Delph and left an enormous void in the Birmingham-based club. Without a solid striker, Villa have managed only 23 goals all season.
Benteke was always going to wave goodbye to Villa Park, eventually. The striker was courting widespread interest from Europe’s elite and it was only a matter of time before he parted ways with Sherwood and Villa.
Much like the Delph transfer saga, the true crime lay in not reinvesting the huge £35 million fee that Villa received for the Belgian forward. Rudy Gestede was signed, from Blackburn Rovers, and looked to be a shrewd signing – scoring in Villa’s first game of the season, away at Bournemouth.
Villa fans’ excitement was soon brought to an end as Gestede has gone on to rack up a measly five goals during the rest of the season so far. With a war chest of £35 million, fans were expecting at least an attempt at signing a big name striker – rather than settling on the first name that came up who had a similar build to Benteke.
A chronic lack of goals has blunted Villa and, coupled with an open-door defence, has resulted in the total capitulation of the proud club. Benteke’s departure was the final nail in the coffin that would see Sherwood laid to rest in, followed by Garde and now, finally, the club itself.
The flame of resistance has flickered out for Villa and it is now time to prepare for the Championship. Perhaps some solace can be taken from the fact that, with their three best players leaving, relegation was all but inevitable and the dismal performances were just an embarrassing facade.