Rémi Garde is set to take over as manager at Villa Park
2 November ~ This is Aston Villa's sixth consecutive relegation fight and the hole now dug in the Premier League basement is a particularly deep one. Many winnable opportunities in a relatively comfortable opening ten games have been squandered, and with a difficult run of fixtures coming up that 40-point target seems a long way off.
Owner Randy Lerner and his advisors will have looked at the history of poor starts in the Premier League and concluded that a change of team management was a necessary first step to survival. The sympathetic view of Tim Sherwood’s cameo reign is that he revitalised a side that was drab, couldn't score and headed for relegation, and gave Villa one of their better wins in recent memory in the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool. He lost the spine of the team (Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph, Christian Benteke) through no fault of his own, while Lerner has been actively looking to offload the club for some time.
The more scathing – and majority – view is that Sherwood betrayed his inexperience with some bizarre line-ups and substitutions, and his unending ability to talk about himself in post-match interviews without ever providing tactical analysis of what went wrong on the pitch. Was his stunned demeanour after the 3-2 loss at Leicester a sign of genuine concern for Villa, or perhaps the dawning realisation that with every agonising defeat his long-term ambitions of managing a bigger club were receding further and further?
There’s a significant reputational risk attached to the post of manager at Aston Villa these days, and the prospect of career damage if the club go down might have limited the pool of candidates as much as the awkward mid-season timing. At the time of writing, Villa appeared set to bring in Rémi Garde and his coterie from Birmingham’s twin city Lyon, against the received wisdom that the situation calls for a proven firefighter.
“Garde would be a gamble given his lack of Premier League experience,” says Villa season-ticket holder Chris Manion. “You can't help thinking we're going for him because he's out of a job and would be cheaper. I'm yet to hear any convincing explanation as to why he should be top of our list, apart from the fact we signed a lot of French players.”
Gallows humour dominated the mood of the impressive 3,000-plus Villa following at last Wednesday’s League Cup defeat to Southampton. “There were a lot of tongue in cheek chants about how rubbish we are,” continued Manion, “which probably doesn't help the team but I think gives a hint of the resignation we all feel. It was incredible that we sold out our allocation but I have resigned myself to us going down this year.”
If Garde does take up the challenge, he’ll need to find a way of boosting the return from striking options that that have so far proved ineffective – Gabby Agbonlahor, Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew. The long-serving Agbonlahor seems to have lost his touch – literally – and the fans are increasingly critical. Then there’s the ongoing problem of a back five which is reliable only for the sense that some fresh calamity is inevitable. Colin Peel