Former Aston Villa defender Simon Grayson feels the departure of Martin O’Neill was the catalyst for the club’s Premier League demise.
Villa’s relegation to the Championship was confirmed on Saturday after they were beaten 1-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford, ending their status as an ever-present in the Premier League since its inception in 1992.
O’Neill guided his side to three consecutive sixth-place finishes in the top flight during his four-year spell in charge, but Villa’s decline has been evident since his acrimonious exit in 2010 and they have not finished above 15th since 2011.
Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, Tim Sherwood and Remi Garde have all been appointed and dismissed in the last six years, and Grayson – who spent two years at Villa Park in the late 1990s – believes the club is paying the price for their managerial mistakes.
“It’s a huge football club. You don’t realise what a size Aston Villa is,” he told Omnisport.
“It’s probably since Martin O’Neill left that the club has had that gradual decline. It’s a sorry state of affairs to see a club like that in the position they’re in, but that’s football – it doesn’t matter how big a club you are.
“Sometimes you don’t realise how good a thing you’ve got with certain individuals, then you make a change and it isn’t always for the better.
“Maybe there are other issues along the way – the recruitment of certain players, are they getting any luck… there are so many factors that lead to where they are. Ultimately, once you get on that snowball of winning, you can carry that forward. But in reverse, you lose matches, the negativity can have a major effect on where the club is going.”
Grayson has warned Villa they have no “divine right” to bounce straight back up to the Premier League and says they will find it difficult against Championship clubs who will look to claim a famous scalp against the 1982 European Cup winners.
“Just because you’re a big club, doesn’t give you any right to go straight back up,” said the Preston North End boss. “They will find it tough because they’ll be a big scalp – other clubs have found the same problem, like Blackburn, Newcastle, Leeds.
“Everyone would love to go to Villa Park next year and try to put one over on them because they are the big name in that division.
“It’s not going to be the glam lights of the Premier League. You play nearly every Saturday-Tuesday – it’s relentless. It’s very difficult but, if they get the right core of players who have an understanding of what the division is all about, they’ve got a good chance because they’re a big club. But that doesn’t give you any divine right to do well in this division.”
Villa fans have clashed with players more than once this season – most notably Micah Richards during the 1-1 FA Cup draw with Wycombe Wanderers in January – and have voiced a growing frustration with the club hierarchy and owner Randy Lerner in particular.
Grayson says getting the supporters back on side could be crucial to Villa’s hopes of a successful rebuild and return to the top flight.
“You’ve got to keep everybody unified,” he added. “It’s their football club – players and managers come and go, but unless you’re very fickle, you don’t change allegiance to the club you support.
“They’ve got to make sure they come through this very difficult period. They have to stick together and get the feelgood factor back around Villa Park. Players respond better when supporters are on their side.”
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