In a week where we find ourselves hopelessly beguiled by the positive spirit, energy and teamwork of Leicester City and Atletico Madrid, spare a thought for the fans of a once-great club that finds itself at the opposite end of the football spectrum. The anti-Leicester, if you like.
Soon to be relegated Aston Villa.
Disenchanted fans recently held up a homemade banner saying: ‘No fight. No pride. No effort,’ – and in the space of just six words their shambolic season was summed up in the most concise and accurate of ways.
The fans aren’t fools. I can’t remember watching a Premier League team perform in such a trance-like daze of lethargy, in so many matches during a single season. The basic qualities that have taken the Foxes and Atletico to the brink of glory, are simply nowhere to be seen.
We’ve heard plenty of excuses about absentee owner Randy Lerner’s budget cuts, the rotten structure from boardroom level to the pitch, diabolical player recruitment, and the wrong managerial choices – and all of those factors obviously stack up.
When over the course of five seasons you sign 40 new players, and there is only one categoric success (the now departed Christian Benteke) the machine is clearly faulty.
But let’s not let the class of 2016 off scot-free.
In terms of doing their jobs properly as professionals, Aston Villa’s players have been a disgrace. Their attitudes and standards have stunk the place out. They have played like they just don’t care. And that’s unforgivable.
Personally, I don’t think the club should have cancelled their Player of the Year awards night.
Yes it would have been embarrassing. No, none of the players or staff would have fancied attending the event. And OK, whoever won it would have felt a little awkward. But that’s precisely why it should have gone ahead!
Making the players front up, look the supporters in the eye, and face the music, would have been a fitting payback.
Rest assured, the decision to scrap the event will have delighted the changing room.
Now, the moment the final whistle blows on 2015-16, the players will collectively trample all over one another to get as far away from Birmingham as they possibly can. And most will then instruct their agents to negotiate a summer move.
If Aston Villa are to stand any chance of resurrecting pride with a promotion push next term, they’d be well advised to say good riddance.
The losing mentality is so ingrained within the group, and the attitudes are so substandard, that I see no hope for the same squad delivering better results under a different head coach.
You can’t turn togetherness on and off like a tap. Aston Villa’s current team is far too broken to fix.
Rather than looking at which players I want to sell, I’d start with a list of who should be kept on; and I wouldn’t need much paper.
Rudy Gestede will score them goals in the second tier. The injured left back Jordan Amavi is a decent player. Ashley Westwood is a good pro. And even though he’s been erratic, Idrissa Gana Gueye does at least put a shift in for the team.
The rest? They can pack their bags, and that includes the talented-but-wayward Jack Grealish.
Gaining promotion from the Championship is a serious slog. Carrying excess baggage would be a nightmare.
Unless you have a reliable core, determined characters, a solid team ethic, and a willingness to fight twice a week when you’re knackered and don’t really fancy it, there’s no way you will last the course.
Who should lead them? If the rumours that Nigel Pearson and Chris Powell (as manager and coach) are true; that’s a perfect place to start. They are the type of men who will help a fresh set of players channel their inner-Leicester.
The way I see it, Villa have no choice but to bring in hungry players that are proud to wear the claret and blue, who are willing to fight for the shirt and each other. If they don’t, they won’t get their place back in the Premier League.
This weekend they’ll go down, and the moment it happens, a brutal cull must begin.