Tim Sherwood had to go but Aston Villa have bigger problems upstairs

Trinity Road Stand - Aston Villa

Sherwood may not have been the right man for Villa but the board only have themselves to blame for the club's ongoing struggles.

Eight months is all it took in the end for Tim Sherwood to demonstrate that he was not the man to lead Aston Villa out of their five-year slump.

Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Swansea City, which leaves the club sitting bottom of the Premier League with just four points from 10 games, proved the final straw for the Villa board, who now find themselves searching for a new manager for the fifth time in the past six seasons.

The hope was that Sherwood could succeed where Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish and Paul Lambert had all failed before him by replicating the success Martin O’Neill enjoyed during his four-year reign but, while the initial signs were promising, things very quickly fell apart.

Originally taking over from Lambert last February with the club looking doomed in the drop zone and on a 10-game winless streak, Sherwood soon won over supporters by transforming a team that had scored just 12 goals in 25 league matches into a vibrant, attacking side that played with newfound energy and determination.

A subsequent run of five wins in 13 top-flight matches ultimately proved just enough to secure another campaign of Premier League football, while spirited victories over West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool in the FA Cup also sealed a first trip to the final since 2000.

The season ended on a down note after a 6-1 thrashing at Southampton was followed by a 1-0 home defeat to already-relegated Burnley and 4-0 loss to Arsenal at Wembley but, having seemingly worked miracles prior to that three-game stretch, the future under Sherwood undoubtedly seemed bright.

Those aforementioned defeats proved to be warning signs, however, as the new campaign gradually exposed a manager who was out of his depth.

Bizarre line-up decisions, questionable substitutions and constant formation changes soon saw the magic of last term wear off, as fans quickly became disillusioned with the direction the team was going – towards the Championship.

Sherwood ultimately left the board with no choice but to sack him after Swansea’s comeback win condemned his side to a sixth straight league defeat but, while the decision may have been the right one, the position in which the club currently finds itself has just as much to do with the men upstairs as the person heading out the door.

With owner Randy Lerner a largely disinterested figure these days, it was CEO Tom Fox who led the charge to appoint Sherwood back in February, when plenty were sceptical about his credentials for the job.

The former Tottenham Hotspur head coach had just six months of managerial exposure at White Hart Lane and, while his much-publicised win ratio of 59 per cent may have been impressive, most Spurs fans were far from upset to see the back of him after enduring his tactical miscues and naïve approach – issues which the claret and blue faithful later became all too familiar with.

Sherwood always talked a good game, even promising back in May that Villa would never struggle again under his watch, but the simple fact is that he was an inexperienced manager who was very much learning on the go and far from a sure thing.

The likes of Fox and Lerner knew full well this was the case eight months ago but, instead of giving him the backing he needed during his one and only transfer window in charge, they ended up making his job even harder.

The departures of star men Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph, as well as the on-loan Tom Cleverley, were largely out of their hands but divides soon reportedly grew over how the club went about replacing their impact, as sporting director Hendrik Almstadt and director of scouting and player recruitment Paddy Riley were said to be at the front and centre of affairs.

According to the likes of the Birmingham Mail, Sherwood wanted tried and tested Premier League talent but was instead offered predominately young recruits from overseas, who promised much but needed time to settle, unlike alleged targets like Aaron Lennon, Esteban Cambiasso and Dwight Gayle, to name a few.

There were exceptions in Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott, who have enjoyed differing fortunes so far, but Sherwood ultimately ended up with a revamped squad full of players he was neither familiar with nor could trust.

 Under Sherwood
Premier LeagueGoals GAMETotal Shots GAMEScoring V Shooting AccuracyTotal Passes GAMEPassing AccuracyGoals Conceded GAMEOpp Shots GAMEPossession PercentageAppearances
Aston Villa 2014-2015 1.46 12.31 12% 442.54 78% 1.46 11.08 52% 13
Aston Villa 2015-2016 0.9 11 8% 420.6 79% 0.9 12.6 50% 10

Make no mistake, a more established manager could well have done a better job with the talent at his disposal, but how much better exactly is up for debate.

Lerner made funds available in the summer, as the club brought in 13 players for a total of £54.3 million, but a net spend of just £9.3 million was the sixth lowest in the top-flight and indicative of a want-away owner who has lost the enthusiasm he once harboured during his first few seasons upstairs.

The likes of Jordan Ayew, Idrissa Gana and Jordan Amavi are certainly no slouches but take two players with the quality of Benteke and Delph out of any mid-table team, let alone one that finished 17th, and they will struggle mightily to improve.

Release clauses may have made the departures of both their top goalscorer and captain inevitable but the fact it was so easy for the pair to move on merely highlights the club's plight since Lerner tightened the purse strings before O’Neill’s sudden exit in August 2010.

Since then, Villa have teetered on the edge of relegation from one manager to another as they search for top-flight stability rather than a Champions League challenge and, as long as the current ownership remains in place, it is hard to see that changing.

Everything about the club, from the stadium to their history, would suggest that the fans have the right to expect European football but those in charge are perfectly happy to settle for 17th-place while they pocket the ever-increasing TV money.

Southampton are currently showing what can be achieved with the right leadership and infrastructure in place, even while losing core first-teamers, and there is no reason to think that Villa could not do similar if the club was in better hands.

However, until there is a complete clear out at the top, Sherwood’s successor – whether Remi Garde, David Moyes or Brendan Rodgers – is going to face an equally tough time in their mission to turn around a rapidly sinking ship.

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