In many ways, the confirmation of Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship last Saturday afternoon felt long overdue.
For some it may have come as a surprise that Villa were still mathematically in with a chance of survival going into their eventual 1-0 defeat to Manchester United.
This is, after all, an Aston Villa side that had amassed just 16 points through the previous 33 league games, won just twice from the opening day of the season until mid-January and put up a more feeble resistance to relegation than any side in Premier League history.
In reality, while most of us had already cast Villa to the Championship scrapheap by Christmas, the writing had been on the wall for the last five seasons.
It’s incredible to think that Villa were involved in a genuine battle for a Champion’s League spot under Martin O’Neill in 2010.
Who would have thought that when they were standing alongside Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City that just six years later they’d be preparing to do battle with Huddersfield, Rotherham and Bristol City?
But since O’Neill left in August 2010 Villa have spiralled to mediocrity and below through a series of botched managerial appointments, eyebrow raising transfer deals and a seemingly unending run of lifeless performances that has finally culminated in relegation this season.
Appointing Alex McCleish, formerly the manager of rivals Birmingham City, paying a club record fee for Darren Bent and selling key players like Stewart Downing and Ashley Young were the first of the head scratching decisions made in the Randy Lerner era that left the club on the brink of relegation.
These were compounded, year on year by even more baffling decisions; bringing in the likes of Kieran Richardson, Phillippe Senderos and Joe Cole is hardly the ideal solution for a club deep in a relegation dogfight.
This year, however, Villa seemed to concede their fate before a ball was kicked. Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph were sold, Ron Vlaar was let walk on a free transfer and the replacements brought in were a mix of unheard of French players and Championship talent.
The position all of this leaves Aston Villa in does not inspire much optimism. With next season’s Premier League club’s about to be the recipients of the ground breaking £8.3 billion tv deal, there has hardly been a worse time to drop out of England’s top flight.
And what of the squad; most relegation bound sides find themselves fearing their core of players will be dismantled by the circling vultures of Premier League teams who can offer the players top flight football and afford the wages that couldn’t be sustained on a Championship income.
But who from this Villa side would any team be interested in taking? Joleon Lescott is an internationally capped defender but has made more of an impact this season in incensing the fans with his embarrassing apathy towards his team’s plight.
All of Villa’s talent was already raided the summer before, leaving them in the highly dangerous limbo of a squad of players they can’t afford to keep with no interest from teams above them and unwilling to take a paycut to move to teams below.
The Lerner era has been simply one of the most harrowing periods in the club’s rich history. The fear now is that with the club so woefully unequipped to deal with the relegation they have long been bracing for, the darkest days are only beginning.
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