Having won just one of their last six league games, as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup at home to Swansea, Aston Villa’s season is in danger of stagnation and it could have drastic implications for the club’s future.
After a disappointing start to the season which cost Steve Bruce his job, Villa appeared to have steadied the ship with the appointment of former Brentford manager Dean Smith.
Smith’s arrival brought with it a flurry of goals, as Villa recorded impressive 3-0 wins away to both Derby and Middlesbrough and beat City rivals Birmingham 4-2 at Villa Park to close the gap on the top six as Christmas approached.
Goals continued to flow over the festive period, but were also conceded far too readily, as the Villains shipped 10 goals in six games.
Their poor form over Christmas leaves them five points off the play-off places, not an insurmountable gap by any means, but one that will continue to grow if Villa fail to break their slump.
Starting with an away trip to Wigan at the weekend, Villa have a favourable run of games and it is not an understatement to say that they must collect maximum points from it if they are to save their season.
The club’s problems on the pitch, however, pale in comparison to the financial situation off it, which threatens to reach a fever pitch if Villa fail to secure an unlikely promotion in May.
This is the last year that parachute payments will be awarded to Villa and without that compensation they will struggle to pay their excessive wage bill without breaching almost every Financial Fair Play regulation.
Their bill is astronomical and most of it stems back to 2016/17, when Villa broke the bank to make an instant return to the Premier League.
Close to £90 million was spent on some of the best players the Championship had to offer and even though they made roughly half of that figure back from selling players, that is still a huge net spend for a Championship club.
Ross McCormack and Jonathan Kodija were brought in for huge money because they were seen as prolific goalscorers in the second tier and while Kodija lived up to his fee initially, McCormack has trudged from fiasco to fiasco since making the move to Villa.
A fee in the region of £12m seemed like pocket change because of his record in the Championship, but McCormack’s return of three goals in three years since signing for the Villains has hardly repaid that investment. McCormack has played 14 times for Villa since moving in 2016, costing them nearly £1 million an appearance.
To make matters worse, McCormack’s wages are an estimated £2.3m a year.
Midfielders Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury were poached from Barnsley and Nottingham Forest respectively in January 2017. Hourihane has become a mainstay in the Villa starting 11, but Lansbury has hardly featured this season, making just one substitute appearance in the league.
Lansbury earns £40,000 per week.
Similarly, Brentford’s Scott Hogan was bought for £9m in January after a blistering first half of the season at Griffin Park. However, like Lansbury, Hogan is yet to start a league game for the club this season.
There’s nothing wrong with spending money to aid a promotion push, but to spend it so mindlessly and so wastefully borders on insanity. Villa’s reckless spurge is a disaster waiting to happen, but it becomes an even bigger problem when coupled with the club’s failure to secure promotion last season.
Defeat to Fulham in the play-off final cost Villa £160m, which could have long term ramifications for the club if teams in similar situations are considered.
Wigan missed out on an instant return to the Premier League in 2014 when they lost out to QPR in the play-off semi-finals and have since spent their time fluctuating between the bottom half of the Championship and the top six of League One.
Bolton similarly missed out on the play-offs on the last day of 2012/13 season as they attempted to make an instant return to the top flight and have subsequently straddled the Championship and League One.
Even Blackpool made the play-off final the year after their relegation from the Premier League.
Within three seasons the Tangerines were relegated to League One and a season later they sat bottom of the Football League.
While Villa’s predicament should be nowhere near as perilous as Blackpool’s was, it still serves as a warning for what could happen should Villa fail to make use of their parachute payments.
Exclusive: understand Tammy Abraham has turned down #wwfc and has instead decided he wants to see out the rest of his loan deal with #avfc to be part of their promotion push. He trained with the Villa squad again this morning.
— Rob Dorsett (@RobDorsettSky) January 8, 2019
Tammy Abraham’s apparent U-turn over a move to Wolves has been the one positive for Villa fans in the last few weeks.
Abraham has 16 league goals in 20 games and without them Villa’s promotion chances become even slimmer.
But, with an Abraham firing on all cylinders there’s nothing to stop Villa putting a run together and fending off any potential disasters.