Misfiring Villains far short of Premier League target

Aston Villa are not a typical Championship club. Not many teams in the division average over 30,000 for home attendances and can boast of winning the European Cup, like the Villains did in 1982.

Only Nottingham Forest have won that particular trophy (twice), but in contrast to our local side, the Birmingham-based club had been a mainstay in the Premier League since its inception in 1992. That was until last season when Villa crashed out of the Premier League and began their maiden season in the Championship.

A new owner, Chinese businessman Dr Tony Xia, vowed to oversee a swift return to the top flight and entrusted manager Roberto Di Matteo with the task. Dr Xia then bankrolled heavy spending in the summer which brought in nine new players including the big money signings of strikers Ross McCormack and Jonathan Kodjia.

Despite this productivity in the transfer market, Di Matteo failed to keep pace with the promotion chase and was hurriedly sacked after just 12 games. Steve Bruce took over, and in January brought in a further six players, including Scott Hogan, Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane, all for large sums.

However, the change of manager and increased spending hasn’t seen much change on the pitch as the Villains lie in 16th place, rock bottom of the form table, 19 points of the play-offs and only 7 points off the relegation zone.

Laughably, Bruce has blamed his side’s poor performance on a “lack of goals”, despite spending over 20 million pounds on strikers and bringing in the Championship’s best assist maker in Hourihane.

The danger for Villa now is that they do not get promoted at the first attempt, which looks sadly inevitable. Looking at the statistics, this is not a position a newly relegated team wants to be in. According to a study in The Telegraph, only 23.5% of relegated teams bounce straight back up and 65.9% of teams are not promoted within two seasons.

A quick look at the Championship table proves this, as there are 13 teams who failed to gain promotion first time round after being relegated from the Premier League, not including last season’s relegated teams.

This illustrates that the gulf in quality between the Premier League and Championship is getting smaller and it is harder than ever to get promoted. A look at the current top six gives this indication, with Rafael Benitez’ Newcastle United being the only newly-relegated side.

“This makes the desperation shown in the heavy spending understandable but it risks putting the club in a dangerous financial situation”

The bad news for Villa fans is that the longer a team stays in the Championship the harder it is to get out. In fact, after three seasons you’re just as likely to get relegated as you are to win the league, just like Leeds United, Wolves, Barnsley and Wigan Athletic, who all dropped down to League One after being relegated from the Premier League.

This is something Aston Villa cannot afford to do, quite literally, as the Football League is littered with teams who have spiralled out of control due to heavy spending.

The plights of Portsmouth and Blackpool, for example, are not ones to follow. This makes the desperation shown in the heavy spending understandable but it risks putting the club in a dangerous financial situation.

A second campaign in the Championship looks more and more inevitable and will only add to the frustration on the terraces of Villa Park. The new owner will do well to learn from the models of Swansea, Bournemouth and Burnley and understand that getting promoted requires a whole lot more than a massive pile of money.

Joe Richards

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