Normally inquests follow disasters. This one is occurring during one.
Aston Villa's abominable season is not yet over, but their plans have unravelled to the extent that the culprits are paying the price before relegation is even ratified.
Remi Garde’s sacking means that three powerbrokers have gone in quick succession. The Frenchman’s dismissal, which Villa tried to obscure by announcing it during a packed programme of internationals, was predicted. The fact that the path to the exit is increasingly well trod renders his departure no surprise.
Results made it inevitable. Garde’s return of 12 points from 20 league games, containing just two wins, is dismal by any standards. It is why, whatever promises were made at his job interview, there was no point in investing in his preferred players in January. Villa were beyond salvation.
Garde went after a run of six successive defeats. Villa’s plight was already worrying when he took over but it has worsened alarmingly on his watch. They had four points from their first 11 games, but that was only four fewer than Bournemouth. Now they are separated by 30 points.
Little wonder, then, that new chairman Steve Hollis has been undertaking a review of where Villa went wrong. The answer, in reality, is everywhere. Garde is neither blameless nor the sole culprit. He is both symptom and cause at a club where confused thinking pervaded.
Signings and managerial choices alike were the product of poor decisions, of a failure to recognise the scale of their problems and to take the short-term measures required to preserve their Premier League status.
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Garde’s arrival, on a three-and-a-half year contract, was an idealistic appointment at a stage when Villa needed pragmatism. They spent almost £50 million (Dh265m) on players who were untried in England and, in the case of the £10 million winger Adama Traore, have not even been deemed ready to start a league game yet.
They acted with the attitude that they could afford a season of transition; instead they are being transported from top flight to second tier.
So Villa have been removing the guilty men, one by one. The sporting director Hendrik Almstadt went two weeks ago, followed by chief executive Tom Fox. Garde is the second manager to lose his job, after Tim Sherwood's October dismissal. Director of scouting and recruitment Paddy Reilly remains in situ, but given the fortunes of Villa's signings and his colleagues, he must be concerned.
The supporters have called for change at the top, but the only way owner Randy Lerner can leave is if someone wants to buy a club whose value will depreciate with demotion.
And that still leaves a further faction in the failure: the players. Villa’s is a poorly-compiled squad, with too few automatic choices, too many players who were not acquired with a system or a pattern of play in mind.
But nor should they be as poor as they have been this year. They have underachieved on a grievous scale. In some cases, that is a trend that has spanned several seasons. Yet as only Kieran Richardson and Charles N’Zogbia are out of contract in the summer, Villa could be lumbered with the majority.
They present a test for Garde’s successor, who should be forewarned and forearmed. The Frenchman clearly was not. He had excelled at Lyon but looked an innocent abroad, complete with the air of a bemused tourist, slightly unsure of what he had walked into.
He may yet prosper again in his homeland but is probably unemployable as a manager in England again. His time at Villa has been just too toxic.
And a club that thought it had alighted on a model for progress – a continental coach, raiding Ligue 1 in search of bargains – must now be in the process of performing a U-turn.
Villa require a pragmatic appreciation of how to get out of the Championship. They need a manager with a proven pedigree at that level and a group of players who are equipped for the challenge.
The lesson from this season is that the time for experimental choices is over. They have backfired, and Villa are counting the cost.
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