As an Aston Villa fan I have now become used to the interminable feeling of gnawing bleakness. A club that for every shard of momentary joy there is a painful spike of woe shortly after to bring you crashing down to earth. I started supporting them in 2004, when they were a mid-table team on the slide. 12 years later and the inevitable relegation looks to have finally caught up to us.
I realise that opening paragraph might have sounded melodramatic, we've remained a Premier League club since its inception, we've never had any major financial difficulties, we've never signed Danny Graham, things could be worse. However it has become clear to me that Villa is club with depression dyed into it's roots, a sleeping giant that even when it wakes up has a massive hangover. Take the halcyon days of the Martin O'Neill era. We went far in the cups, got into Europe and briefly challenged for the Champions League. Players like Gareth Barry, James Milner, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, John Carew, Martin Laursen, Brad Friedel all in their prime. But even during this days, the nagging sense of underachievement was palpable. Despite the amount of talent the issue that always held the team back was the home form. The amount of 0-0's that I watched during my brief tenure as a season-ticket holder was staggering. Since then, all the good players left and the owners pulled the money out. This has led to a bitterness that has seeped into the mindset of the club. The fans feel begrudged that even in what we now look at as the 'golden years', they still were not entertained.
Fast-forward to the year 2015. After looking doomed under Paul Lambert, Aston Villa were saved by Tim Sherwood whose simple tactics of 'lump it up to Benteke' got just enough points for us to finish in 17th position. After an amazing initial impact gaining 4 league wins and a place in the FA Cup final, Sherwood's simple tactics were found before the season even finished. Thrashings by Southampton and Arsenal in the FA Cupfinal proved the problem was systemic and could not be solved by simple tactical re-jigging. Sherwood went into the 2015/16 season on the back of losing arguably our best 3 players in Delph, Vlaar (he chose to go unemployed rather than play for Villa any more) and most crucially Christian Benteke. This then saw a sea of players brought in from abroad to help plug the gaps, specially from France. Now it doesn't take a genius to now work out that this plan didn't work, of the players we brought in only Jordan Ayew has arguably improved the team. Gestede is no Benteke and while Vertout is probably a like for like replacement for Tom Cleverly (both are painfully average), Idrissa Gueye doesn't have to steel or command of Fabian Delph.
Sherwood floundered and failed, clearly not knowing what to do with these players. After a fortunate win against Bournmouth on the opening day of the season, he went on to gain just 1 more point in the next 10 games and was sacked. Was the sacking harsh? Maybe. As I previously said the players brought in weren't good enough. But Sherwood's Villa had no identity and had no plan. His 'jumped up fan who somehow got into the dugout' style of management can only go so far, and after squandering a 2-0 lead against Leicester to lose, Sherwood looked clueless. His decision making got erratic, such as starting a back 3 against Stoke, only to switch at half-time, or even starting Bacuna at central midfield. His press conferences became monotonal, you could almost see him morphing into Lambert before your very eyes. He had to go.
And then came Remi Garde. His first game was a promising one, 0-0 against Man City. This gave me hope. Perhaps we could go full Pulis, be incredibly negative and route one but squeeze out the results. It may not be pretty, but it get's results! The next week we lost 4-0 to Everton. Since then we have grabbed a few points here and there through luck, or a moment of genius from Ayew, but really the simple hard truth is that Aston Villa will be relegated and it's about time too. For so long the club has not been punished for simply not trying hard enough to do anything other than tread water. January should not be a time to spend big to try and stay up, it is a time for a clear out. The deadwood needs to go. Players like Westwood, Agbonlahor, Richardson, Hutton, N'Zogbia and Clark have been given more than enough chances to prove they are not good enough. Relegation is inevitable, let's embrace that. And maybe, just maybe while clearing out the team of the deadwood we can finally rid the club of the stench of failure that wafts around Villa Park from the board to the players to the fans.
Here's to a miserable 2016.