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EYE ON EPL

Even a villa can collapse, if its roof is not strong enough

A proud record is almost certain to come to an end in May. Unless a miracle happens, Aston Villa, a member of the Premier League since it was founded in 1992, will be relegated.

Sunday's 0-2 loss to title contenders Tottenham was their fifth straight in the league. Having recorded just three wins and shipped 57 goals, they are rooted at the bottom of the EPL with 16 points from 30 games.

At least the club are assured they will not end up with the record of having the fewest wins in a season. Derby County finished 2008 with just one victory and 11 points.

How did Villa, who were fighting for a Champions League spot just six years ago with three consecutive sixth-place finishes from 2008 to 2010, end up in such a mess?

Actually, the writing has been on the wall for several seasons, no thanks to the instability off the Villa Park pitch. Five managers (Gerard Houllier, Paul Lambert, Alex McLeish, Tim Sherwood and current manager Remi Garde) have come through the door since Martin O'Neill left in 2010.

Villa are a classic example of how a rich heritage and track record do not make a club immune from being hit by bad and erratic management decisions.

The club have been in decline since, recording finishes of ninth (2011), 16th (2012), 15th (2013, 2014) and 17th (2015).

Just last week, Forbes reported that Villa have incurred an average loss of over US$100,000 (S$137,000) a day since American Randy Lerner bought the club in 2006. His putting the club up for sale in 2014 - an offer yet to be taken up by anyone - unsettled the team further.

That the club needed quick financial relief probably led to them selling two of their best players last summer. Letting Villa's top scorer for the past three seasons - Christian Benteke - depart for Liverpool and Fabian Delph's transfer to Manchester City were suicidal moves.

Villa also made an unusual move in bringing in a foreign coach in Garde, who has never led a team out of relegation, having managed only French side Lyon before moving to England. Harry Redknapp would have been a better choice, as he has more experience with English football.

With no new signings in the January transfer window, I don't see Villa - eight points behind Newcastle, who had two games in hand ahead of this morning's clash with leaders Leicester City - escaping the drop with just eight games left.

Villa are a classic example of how a rich heritage and track record do not make a club immune from being hit by bad and erratic management decisions.

Another example - Singapore Armed Forces FC (now called Warriors FC) encountered a similar drop in form in 2010. Until 2009, they were powerhouses in the S-League, winning the title a record eight times in 15 years, or about one championship every other year.

But they adopted a new direction in 2010. They released several key players like Thai playmaker Therdsak Chaiman and me, and signed younger players including foreigners Ivan Lovric, Federico Martinez and then-Young Lion Hyrulnizam Juma'at.

Since then, they have won the league only once, in 2014, with only two other top-four finishes - in 2010 (fourth) and 2011 (third).

They have also had four coaches since Richard Bok left in 2012.

For now, Villa need to start preparing for life in the second-tier Championship. They must rebuild the team and bring in new players in the next transfer window, and not use the additional income (from TV and merit revenue) they receive at the end of the season to finance their losses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Even a villa can collapse, if its roof is not strong enough'. Print Edition | Subscribe