Aston Villa just had a terrible January transfer window. Zero players came in when the club very obviously needed at least another striker if they were to have any chance at avoiding relegation. Moves for Lovre Kalinić, Michu, Ravel Morrison, and Wahbi Khazri – among others – fell through. Certainly some of the issues were beyond the control of the club (such as the FA and the Home Office deciding that Kalinić didn't deserve a work permit), but if reports are to be believed others certainly were (like the £8 million deal for Khazri that didn't go through because the board wouldn't back it).
Even in outgoing terms the news wasn't that good. Sure Joe Cole left, but that brought in nothing. And the outgoing loans did little but deplete depth. Meanwhile, players with high wages and little to offer on the pitch, like Gabby Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia, are left behind at Bodymoor Heath.
Despite the fact that it was an unquestionably bad window, it's quite tough to point to any one moment that made it so awful. Plenty of fans are irritated at the inaction shown by the club on deadline day. "Surely we must realize that someone needs to be brought in," seems to be the consensus among those aggrieved. But if anything, the deadline day quietude was one of the best decisions made by the club this month. If Rémi Garde couldn't get the players he wanted – and he made it clear that any deadline day signings would not be first choice – it made little sense to throw money at some stopgaps in what is increasingly looking like a moribund relegation-bound campaign. If someone was available to build on for next year, make the move. But absent that, wait for the summer.
Instead of any one hugely bad decision, though, we had a number of small ones. As bad as the choice from the FA and the Home Office to deny Kalinić a work permit may have been, why was there not a second-choice keeper waiting in the wings? Where were the connections to strikers that this club desperately needs? Yes, a lot can be explained away by the fact that tempting players to a sinking ship is difficult, but surely someone could have been convinced to come put the ball in the net in the Premier League?
Was the loan market thoroughly explored? I'm tempted to say yes, because logic would dictate that Villa would have done everything they could to get a helpful player in. But this is no longer a club run by logic. And we never heard any serious scuttlebutt about an incoming loan. Given that the English press are happy to write 500 words on the tiniest possible rumour, that suggests that perhaps there wasn't anything in the offing.
If nothing else, Aston Villa's January window seemed unprepared. The club is in flux. Based on performance before January, they were relegated. Pure and simple. But a five-match unbeaten streak and generally improved play in the past month had given us hope. A few refereeing decisions changed and we'd be in the thick of this. Heck, maybe we'd be in (don't faint from vertigo) 19th! At that point and with a few teams looking just as rubbish as Villa right now, why not splurge £15 million or so and give it a go? If it works, Villa recoup their money with the new Premier League TV deal that goes into effect next year. If it doesn't, and Villa have invested wisely, they've got a base to build from in the Championship.
So while there isn't any one moment that we can point to and say "that's when Villa failed January" the whole month was a disaster. If there is any solace, it should come from the fact that the inability to sign players this month should not be taken as a sign of what is to come this summer. In the club's favor, "come to a sinking club that will, barring a small miracle, finish in the bottom three and be relegated" is a tough sell.
This summer, the pitch should be a bit more cheery. "Come to Aston Villa. Yes we're in the Championship, but that's better than most leagues in the world. And what's more, we've got a very real chance of gaining promotion. Wouldn't you like to be on a side that's hunting for glory?"
And with a few months to prepare for that pitch, maybe Aston Villa can figure something out. Maybe they can make up for an abject failure of a January with a strong Summer. I'm not counting on it at this point, but hope is the only thing I have left.