It’s a wonder he ever got the job in the first place.
That’s not really an indictment of Garde’s acuity or ability. He’s succeeded in the past, and he’ll pick up elsewhere. It’s more an indictment of one of the biggest clubs in England, one that hasn’t acted the part for at least two decades.
Aston Villa is almost assured of relegation, sitting nine points back of 19th-place Newcastle in the Premier League table. It gets worse: The Magpies have played one fewer game, and Aston Villa would have to win its final seven matches just to reach 37 points, which generally constitutes the bare minimum to achieve safety.
Given that the Villans have only won three times all season, it doesn’t seem likely.
Garde certainly shares some of the blame, as would anyone whose side has failed to win in 20 of their 23 matches. His team selections have been puzzling at times, trending toward overreliance on players like Joleon Lescott and Alan Hutton whose best years are behind them. That might be part of the reason he hasn’t really connected with his players.
But did he ever have a chance? Garde was asked to tend to an untenable situation, to stave off relegation with a team all but built to be relegated. After finishing 17th in the league last season, Villa either sold or let walk key cogs like Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley, replacing them only with a slew of unproven, unmotivated commodities.
The club sat 19th when Garde came aboard on Nov. 2, with just one win from its first 10 matches, and the new players haven’t left Garde with a deep squad to choose from. Moreover, the process of putting together his staff resulted in a near-constant tug-of-war behind the scenes. Since owner Randy Lerner has had the team up for sale for nearly two years, it’s not surprising neither he nor chairman Steve Hollis have given Garde the backing required to succeed.
Which only compounds the mystery of why he was appointed. Garde is not prone to bluster, nor is he outwardly passionate, and while one can forgive Lerner and Hollis for steering clear of such a manager — they tried it with Tim Sherwood, last season, and it didn’t work — perhaps dragging Aston Villa to safety this season requires fire and brimstone instead of dignity.
Garde is more of a longer-term thinker, a man who likes to have a plan in place with the ability to execute it. He worked his way up through the managerial staff at Lyon, where he’d spent half his playing career, and took over the head job in 2011. His sides qualified for European competitions the next three seasons before he stepped down for personal reasons, and nobody can sensibly criticize him for failing to win Ligue 1 during the dawn of Paris Saint-Germain’s unbridled superiority.
Aston Villa used to be that kind of club. It used to enjoy competing for top-flight titles every year while playing in Europe. Aston Villa has won the English top flight seven times, more than all but four clubs, and while the bulk of those titles came over a century ago, the club has enjoyed success over the years.
Villa was particularly successful from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, when it won the top flight once and finished second twice to go along with winning the European Cup (now Champions League) in 1982 and the League Cup in 1994 and 1996. Despite a drop-off since then, the Birmingham club still enjoys a hallowed stature and remains one of seven teams to have never been relegated from the Premier League.
Only now, that looks set to change. The names being bandied about as permanent replacements for Garde clearly indicate Aston Villa is preparing for life in the Championship, which former manager Paul Lambert once warned is a “proper blood and thunder” league.
It’s not easy to yo-yo back into the Premier League one season after dropping out, although several clubs have done it in recent years. But those clubs were better positioned to return quickly than Aston Villa, whose finances, talent and stability are all in serious question.
Garde certainly couldn’t keep a club like that up. Doesn’t sound like too many managers can.