THE BLOG

Villa's Relegation Is More Surprising Than You Think

17/04/2016 20:00

So, Villa have gone. In fairness, they are only the fifth worst team in Premier League history as far as I am concerned: Swindon in 1993, the two Sunderland lowest point record setters, and obviously Paul Jewell's Derby, probably come beneath them in the pecking order.

Their departure means the list of Premier League-era ever presents has been dwindled even further; as of next season, there will only be six clubs who have played in every season in the top flight since 1992 - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

This stat just indicates how far Villa have fallen, it is easy to forget amidst their slow, painful death through uninspiring management and a lack of investment, that not too long ago they were to the league what Spurs are in the modern day, perennial European qualifiers and title outsiders.

Their best Premier League finish was in the very first season of the brave new Sky-funded age, when they were runners-up to Manchester United.

It wasn't very close, they finished 10 points back, but under the management of Ron Atkinson (remember him?), and with PFA Player of the Year Paul McGrath at the back, there was a feeling that the 90s could see a battle for dominance between the North West and the Midlands, the second and third cities aiming to be first in football.

It was not to be, with Villa an example of what may appear to be a footballing oxymoron - mid-table inconsistency. They were just as likely to challenge for the top four as to be in lower mid-table. But they were never going to be relegated.

In 2007, Randy Lerner became chairman and Martin O'Neill became manager, and hope once again reared its alluring head.

Three successive sixth-placed finishes followed, with the Villans on each occasion threatening Champions League qualification - in 2009/10 they finished only six points off fourth - and at various points had opportunities to go top of the table, although they never managed it.

Investment was plentiful, and indeed many fans criticised the team for not achieving more. Offer a Villa fan sixth place these days, and they wouldn't just rip your hand off, they'd tear you in two.

What was the moment that things started to go wrong for Villa? I would say the seeds of the current crisis were sown on August 9, 2010 - Martin O'Neill resigns as manager, after a lack of funding was provided that summer by Lerner. The Cleveland Browns owner has not changed his tune since.

Villa's choices of management have been bemusing since - O'Neill was succeeded by an out of touch Gerard Houllier, who left before the season was up due to ill health.

Then came Alex McLeish, from Birmingham City, who could have won the Champions League and
still not have won over sections of the Holte End.

The dire football of Paul Lambert came after, and by the time Tim Sherwood got his hands in things were only going one way, accentuated by the surprisingly incompetent Remi Garde who followed.

Many of us are not surprised by Villa's relegation, but in the wider scheme of things, it shows how much the face of the English game has changed.

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