Aston Villa: What next for one of England's fallen giants?


Martin O’Neill led Aston Villa to three top-six finishes, Remi Garde played a major role in their relegation and Steve Bruce has been tasked with reviving their fortunes

When Aston Villa were relegated from the Premier League in April 2016, caretaker manager Eric Black spoke of the potential for the club to fall into “anarchy”.

In an attempt to halt the decline, Villa’s spending in 2016-17 has exceeded £70m – more than the total paid on transfers by nine top-flight clubs – and they appointed a manager, Steve Bruce, who has won promotion from the Championship four times.

With Bruce in charge and the most expensively-assembled squad in Championship history at his disposal, Villa ought to be targeting an instant return to the Premier League.

Instead, back-to-back wins over Derby on Saturday and Bristol City on Tuesday – their first of 2017 – were required to lift them to the relative heights of 15th. They remain closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs, but fears they could be involved in a relegation battle have eased, for the time being at least.

Their prospects look brighter now but a rare good week on the pitch has not been mirrored off it, as the club announced on Monday a loss of £81m for the last financial year (2015-16), more than three times the deficit from their previous accounts.

For a club whose trophy cabinet boasts a European Cup, seven top-flight titles and seven FA Cups, these are dark days.

How drastic has their decline been?

When Martin O’Neill walked out of Aston Villa five days before the start of the 2010-11 season, he left having secured top-six finishes in each of the three previous campaigns.

Villa were preparing for a third consecutive year of European football and ought to have been looking up, focusing on how best to mount a challenge for the Champions League places.

But since O’Neill’s departure – reports suggested he was unhappy at the lack of funds made available for transfers