Feature

Aston Villa's troubles go far deeper than the on-field disaster

Aston Villa's recent sacking of a second manager this season epitomised what has been a truly horrible season for a once proud club but, with relegation looming, their troubles go far deeper than this campaign's disaster.

Aston Villa Lerner Out

Aston Villa supporters make their point during the EPL match against Chelsea at Villa Park on 2 April 2016 Source: Getty Images

Not long ago Jeff Stelling’s quick review of Aston Villa’s awful season on Sky Sports went viral.



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The frustration among fans of what has to be one of the most underachieving clubs in world football is entirely understandable. They are former European champions based in England’s second most populous city, that in 2014-2015 had one of the highest wage bills in the English Premier League.

Yet the temptation to come to quick conclusions needs to be avoided and thinking that the club’s current position is simply down to some average signings and manager sacking/appointment is missing the real cause.

Villa’s problems are far deeper then the decision’s that led to the on-field calamity, instead it is down to a series of bad decisions over a prolonged period.

It’s for that reason that the cause of this once great club’s gradual collapse is more likely due to poor organisational culture.

That issue starts at the top and a quick look at who is ultimately in charge of the club would lead the Mythbusters to suggest “there’s your problem”.

That person is American owner Randy Lerner, who before taking over the club from ex-chairman Doug Ellis was the owner at NFL side Cleveland Browns (from 2002-2012).

This video of a Browns fan bemoaning his side’s constant poor on-field performance may be all too familiar for Villa supporters.



Now Lerner-less, Cleveland appear to be moving away from a culture that has led to them being described as the worst 'franchise' in American professional sport.

Villa,however, still seem stuck in old ways, with the departure of Remi Garde the latest in a long line of debacles on the Villa Park bench, even going back to the decision to renew Paul Lambert’s contract three matches into a season after battling relegation in the prior campaign.

Tim Sherwood might be a master motivator but he struggled tactically and with a squad lacking experience at the highest level, the combination proved disastrous.

It’s impossible to tell if Garde could have been a success, considering he never really had the backing required to do so - the lack of much-needed squad reinforcements in the transfer window was a case in point.

The heart of the problem was that the Frenchman was signed without a clear idea of how the bosses wanted the side to play and, more importantly, how to fulfill the needs of Birmingham's football-loving public.

While Aston Villa have strong support among the region's older population, England’s second-city is one of the youngest and most diverse in Europe and connecting with this group is vital for the club’s off-field success.

To do so they need to play a style of football that appeals to the city's burgeoning youth population, as well as their established fan base. This should form the basis for the club's underpinning philosophy and drive organisational culture.

Barcelona is a great example of how the club’s identity leads to a strong culture and then guides decision making, on and off the field.

Villa have recently restructured the organisation but without a complete overhaul in club culture a once mighty club will continue to languish in the doldrums.


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3 min read
Published 5 April 2016 at 2:15am
By Vitor Sobral