‘This season, more than ever, we needed a festive miracle and a January bargain in the sales, which never came.’
By Chris Budd
I had a feeling in the summer when I wrote the original ‘Missing Links’ article that I might be writing part II at some point, probably close to Christmas when we had our usual festival decline. However in the light of last month’s transfer window I felt this was the perfect time for a follow-up.
Originally the article had been written almost as a shopping list for Tim Sherwood; however, the links that were missing in summer still appear to be there and after what originally looked like a reasonable summer of transfer business has proven (yet again under Lerner) to be money wasted and quality not replaced, albeit with the odd silver lining.
We’re now reviewing what was a pretty disastrous January transfer window. Not so much because of bad business but because of no business, which surely, given the plight in which the club finds itself, is even worse. Remi Garde wasn’t backed in the transfer market, putting yet more question marks next to the stewardship of Tom Fox and his band of merry men, as well as the new chairman Steve Hollis.
There had been bright sparks of improvement against Palace and, to a lesser extent, against Leicester, and those results combined with the cup win against Wycombe had lifted Villa to the heady heights of a five-game unbeaten run, something most supporters had forgotten how to pronounce.
Since then the FA Cup humiliation at the hands on Man City in front of almost 20,000 empty seats at Villa Park and that non-existent month in the transfer market has reduced Villa to the laughing stock of English football and left the club firmly adrift at the bottom of the table, with more than the sinking feeling of the now inevitable fall into the second tier for the first time since the 1980s.
“Aston Villa are a massive club and shouldn’t be in this mess” is the overused line from the boys in the know in the media. I think ‘big’ and ‘club’ can now be used sparingly. Medium is generous at the moment and ‘club’ tends to suggest a togetherness which clearly isn’t there on and off the pitch. So I may give it an American spin and say that Villa are currently a “medium-sized under-achieving soccer franchise”.
Missing links you say? Where to start?
As when Sherwood arrived a certain “feel-good factor” needs to be brought back with gates dwindling yet again and fans’ overall boredom plummeting to new depths, as well as their patience with the team and boardroom at an all-time low.
Surely the club should look to other clubs for inspiration, most obviously Leicester and their amazing run this year. Our once rivals at Everton continue to hold onto their better players, and even Palace and their London rivals West Ham have overtaken us. Most of those sides did fantastic jobs finding unknown talent, developing it and building solid sides that retained their Premier League status and then pushed on without enormous financial clout, playing decent brands of football in the process. They all appear to have a fantastic culture right through the core of the clubs, something unfortunately currently lacking at Villa Park.
Tactically it was clear for all to see that Sherwood was out of his depth. The cup final was proof enough of that as well as home defeats last season to Stoke, Burnley and the shambles down at Southampton. He wasted his time with experiments and it got him fired – the side that took the field got progressively worse under him.
I feel sorry for Rémi Garde, he has arrived as probably the easy option, but there are still questions over whether he is a realistic candidate to drag us out of trouble. The reality will be shown in May but most people can see that the odds are stacked against him.
This January transfer window could have been one of the most important in the club’s history. It could have determined whether Villa go down or not, but probably more importantly it could have begun to sew the seeds of a team that had the ability to come straight back up. We could have considered January the beginning of an eight-month pre-season campaign to prepare a team fit for promotion.
In reality, alas, the white flag has been well and truly flown, the lion has stopped roaring, the purse strings have tightened more and the harsh reality of cold wet windy nights at Rotherham and venturing into the unknown minefield that is the Championship is now the reality. More games, no doubt more expense for the supporters and no sign of a plan in place for a swift return.
So what of the missing links on the pitch?
Click next page for look at the goalkeeper, defence, midfield & forward positions