When Randy Lerner took over at Aston Villa in September 2006, the optimism at Villa Park was the highest it had been in decades.
With the arrival of Martin O’Neil in the same period, the fans were engaged with the club, its players, its manager and the owner.
The Champions League was the target, and with the financial backing of a billionaire and the reputation of O’Neil, it was a challenging, but realistic goal.
Over the next four years, money was spent. The team strengthened with a mix of young English talent and experience.
Villa pushed for the Champions League, however, were only able to finish in 6th place for four years running, with the big four proving too strong.
So what happened?
The cracks started to appear when Martin O’Neil left the club suddenly, a few days before the commencement of the Premier League season.
The media reports were that O’Neil had not been promised the financial backing he required to continue to improve the squad.
Not only had he not been assured money to spend, but he had also been given no reassurances about keeping the current team he had assembled, as the vultures circled over the club’s biggest stars.
The problem was evident; Lerner had lost interest.
Over the next few years, Villa fans had to watch their club sell their best players, with Gareth Barry, James Milner, Stuart Downing and Ashley Young all moving on to play for top English teams.
But even more frustrating was the decision to sell decent young squad players such as Gary Cahill, Steven Davies and Marc Albrighton for small transfer fees.
These players have since gone on to be regular starters in the Premier League, with both Cahill and Albrighton lifting the Premier League title.
From being an ever present at Villa Park, Lerner was now barely ever making an appearance on match day. He was bored with his new toy and had put the club up for sale. With the club in apparent decline, buyers were in short numbers.
The risk of buying a club that was in such danger of relegation made it a huge gamble – the squad was now a mismatch of over paid, disinterested players, brought in by a number of different managers with different ideas.
The fans had not only lost trust in the chairman; they regularly aired their frustration at the manager and players.
Unsurprisingly the club finally met its impending fate and was relegated out of the Premier League for the first time in its history.
Significant changes were needed. The chairman had no interest in the club. The manager had no financial power in the transfer market.
The players thought they were good enough to play in the Premier League, however, were lacking either the talent or desire to back up their beliefs.
The club was finally sold to Dr. Tony Xia in June 2016.
Regardless of the fact no Villa fans knew who Dr. Xia was, it was a change, and at that point, any change was a good change; the clubs fall from grace had been of such proportions, what Dr. Xia inherited was a mess.
A year later and the back room staff and the squad is unrecognisable from the what was in place during its last few years in the Premier League.
The club has gone after players with Championship experience, the problem being when a club has such an overhaul in players over such a short period it is challenging to produce any consistent performance.
Roberto Di Matteo paid the price for this, losing his job before completing a single season in charge, with Steve Bruce joining, the club has once again looked for proven Championship experience.
All those thinking Aston Villa would be big favourites to return to the Premier League either immediately or within a few years may have been forgetting just how tough the Championship is, Villa were in no fit state to compete.
Matches come thick and fast, and there are a lot of decent hard working teams which make you fight for every point on offer.
Villa do not get an easy pass back to the Premier League just because they are a ‘big team’ or because they have a big fan base.
The result of a billionaire losing interest in his hobby has led to a football club being crippled from top to bottom.
The impacts are felt for years to come. Villa are only just catching their breath and will hope to create a team that can compete over the next few years.
Even if they gain promotion, there is now no Premier League quality in the squad, and more investment will be needed if the club can get back to being a regular fixture in the top flight.
Villa should be held as a warning to all fans hoping for the billionaire chairman. Football clubs have become the new fashion accessories for the mega rich, but how much do they really care about your team?
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