Aston Villa are, finally, relegated. It means the brass at B6 are finally able to fully commit to preparations for the Championship as Villa are set to be in the second tier for the first time in my life. But what does the relegation mean in the short term for the Claret and Blues?
Obviously, the biggest thing on Villa’s radar in the immediate future is hiring a new manager. We’ve heard reports that it could happen as early as this week, but regardless of the timeframe, that’s the biggest task — and the club have to get this one right.
But the key idea that’ll influence that decision is how the club plans to get back to the Premier League, and that’s something that everyone — manager, players, board, etc. — needs to be able to properly contribute to. One of the biggest issues that plagued the Claret and Blues in 2015-16 was how we started the year with the manager, Tim Sherwood, not being on the same page as the guys who made some of the signings. Needing to replace Christian Benteke and Tom Cleverley, Sherwood didn’t have much interest in playing Jordan Veretout and Jordan Ayew, two £8 million signings bought to, you know, replace those guys.
Simply put, that cannot happen this season. Villa’s front office needs to figure out a plan for getting back to the league and then they should go out and get a manager that fulfills it.
If the only goal is an instant return to the Premier League, that should result in a different appointment and playing staff than if the primary goal is to return ready for success, no matter when that happens.
And that’s an interesting debate that hopefully has already been taking place amongst the higher-up at Villa Park. On one hand, you have the immense financial reward of being in the Premier League, and the longer that Villa are outside of that division, the bigger the damage that occurs to the club. You’ve also got the fact that it is easiest to get back in that first season back down. We’ve seen the damage that happens to some clubs when they don’t win that instant promotion back to the Premier League, and seeing Villa go down that path would be agonizingly difficult.
But at the same point in time, Villa officials should be looking at the last six seasons on Tyneside. Newcastle United returned from their relegation in 2010, and while they flirted with the Champions League for one season, the club really never fixed the issues it had when it went down in 2009. The Magpies weren’t able to rid their squad of overpaid mercenaries, which aided the instant return, but the same complaints Newcastle supporters had seven years ago are likely the same ones they have today, as the club look likely to drop once more.
That’s what Villa need to avoid, too. What’s the point of an instant return to the Premier League if it only results in more miserable, drab relegation battles that’ll eventually end in another drop? Perhaps West Ham United would be a better model — their signing of Kevin Nolan after they dropped was a smart one, and he galvanized the club to an instant return to the Premier League. Not only was Nolan a talented player at Championship level, but he immediately entered the club as captain. Without a strong voice in the dressing room right now at Villa Park, a similar signing could be important.
But further, will Villa try to return by building around its strong youth setup — see Fulham’s struggles — or with a more veteran-led squad? Is signing 15 or 20 guys after selling a similar number a reasonable goal for the summer? Is it too big of an undertaking? Despite how flawed this team is, would it be capable of challenging for promotion?
These are the questions the club must answer, and once that happens, a manager should be signed.
From there, the club has to figure out what’s going on in terms of the current players at the club. Who will move to the Premier League or another top-flight division on the basis of being at that calibre? What players must be moved on in order to change the culture at the club? Which members of the squad simply aren’t cut for it? And who can be a contributing player in the Championship? What’s the transfer strategy — will guys like Jordan Lyden and André Green be complementary or key players next season?
Robert and Elis will answer those questions in the next couple days as we continue to look at what relegation means for Villa heading into the most important summer the club has faced in years.