The catch 22 of promotion

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Aston Villa’s battle to gain promotion back to the Premier League has wound supporters up into a state of panic in recent weeks. Two bitterly disappointing defeats before the international break to Q.P.R and Bolton has seemingly derailed hopes of automatic promotion and some doom merchants are even convinced that we now won’t even make top six. Cue the standard meltdown.

I covered the reasons why I still believe there is hope last week. However, it is worth looking at exactly why we have such panic and fear of not gaining promotion. Because in many ways, it actually appears that we’re actually in somewhat of a catch 22 situation.

Whilst I don’t think the current meltdown amongst certain sections of supporters is helpful or even warranted, it is understandable. We have whipped ourselves up into a frenzy and convinced ourselves that unless we go up this season then we, as a club, are doomed. Would that really be the case though?

It’s difficult to say. Historically big clubs such as Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday are held up as examples of what can happen if you don’t get back out of this league within a couple of seasons. The stats certainly seem to suggest that if you don’t go back up within the first couple of seasons then you are destined for a long stay in the Championship. Or worse.

But what is it that we’re actually afraid of missing out on? Would staying in the Championship really be so awful?

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There appears to be a growing amount of supporters who seem content enough to stay in this league. And I can understand why to an extent. It has actually been a nice break from the Premier League in many ways. We’re winning games most weeks and we’re scoring bagfuls of goals. Even last season, whilst it was frustrating, for the most part, it hasn’t ever been despairingly miserable.

Our last five seasons in the Premier League were thoroughly depressing. In 95 home games over that period, we won just 22 times. In our time in the Championship, we have already bettered that and won 23 of 42 games at Villa Park at the time of writing.

There is no denying that despite playing at a lower level, it has been far more enjoyable. So why are we so obsessed with climbing back into the murkiness that is the lower echelons of the big time?

Well, ultimately we have to believe that there would be an improvement on our last showing. Let’s not forget, we were in the end days of the Randy Lerner era. There was no squad investment and the club was being run by clowns who had no idea what they were doing. Lerner himself had no interest in the club and we were left to rot.

Xia is has his ambitions.Now, we have a bit of hope again. Current owner and Chairman Dr Tony Xia has outlined his grand intentions for the club which, in due course, result in Villa competing at the top of the table both domestically and in Europe. It’s great to hear, but it seems a million miles away to be honest. And we heard similar ambitions from Lerner when he first started.

Nevertheless, whilst we can remain sceptical, we can only judge Xia by his actions during his tenure. And so far, he has been nothing short of enthusiastic, completely positive and engaging. And let’s not kid ourselves; his involvement has saved this club.

The thought of scraping by in the Premier League though doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. I think even in the short time that we’ve been away, the league has changed. Unless you are competing for a top 8 finish, then you’re probably battling relegation. The middle section of the league seems to have bled into the fight for survival. The bottom half of the table is so congested and poor. And despite Xia’s plans, we’d be foolish to think that initially at least we wouldn’t be part of that group trying to keep ourselves out of the bottom three.

And let’s not underestimate the sort of hidings we’d get from the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. Weekends that come and go where we know we have no chance to even compete.

But does that all really mean that we’re better off just staying where we are? Surely there must be more to it all!

Staying in the Championship has plenty of downfalls. First of all, supporters are worried about losing a number of key players from this current group. Certainly, loanees Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass would head back to their parent clubs and be unlikely to return. But I’m genuinely unsure of whether the exodus would be a bad as we fear.

Chester would demand a big transfer fee.Standout performer James Chester would surely be courted but is enjoying life at Villa and certainly wouldn’t be let go cheaply. We are still waiting to hear John Terry’s plans, but it is unlikely we’d lose him to anything other than retirement. Other high profile players include Jack Grealish who would be difficult to tempt away, and Jonathan Kodjia would represent a gamble for clubs due to his current injury and the fee we would demand for him still.

I still think we would certainly be competitive if we did remain in the Championship. So, is battling for promotion for another season any worse than getting hammered by the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Mo Salah?

Well, in terms of the club itself, we simply have to be in the Premier League.  We may well win more games during a Championship season. And it may be more rewarding and enjoyable. But sooner or later mediocrity would set in. Those examples of Leeds, Forest and Wednesday should not be overlooked lightly. Ask any supporters from those clubs whether they are enjoying themselves occupying mid-table season after season and they’ll tell you they’d love to be back in the top tier.

For every season that we are in the Championship, the further we fall behind. The state of football now means that historically smaller clubs are amassing fortunes we can only dream of. Since the current Sky television deal came into effect last season, teams finishing bottom of the league are currently pocketing in the region of £100 million. It seems a king’s ransom is the price of failure.

If they manage to avoid relegation for two or three seasons, the likes of Brighton, Huddersfield, Swansea and Burnley will ultimately overtake us both in monetary terms but also of standing within the game.

We may think we’re Aston Villa and see ourselves as a bigger club. But the fact is that there is already a generation of young football fans that view us as a nothing club. We already live on our past glories way too much. And whilst our history is certainly something we should be proud of and never forget, we have to also make sure we add to that existing glory. And we won’t do that having a nice, yet unspectacular, time in the Championship.

Gaining promotion this season is absolutely vital for this club. Unfortunately, that adds unnecessary pressure but there is no other way around it. The stats on relegated clubs prove that not getting back out within two years mean that you will likely remain for several years more. Although we must also acknowledge that it doesn’t make it impossible to ever escape.  Between 1992-93 and 2013-2014 there were a total of 67 relegations from the Premier League. 25 of those sides gained promotion within two years. However, a further 21 teams eventually made it back between three and six years.

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There are other more trivial reasons to not want to stay in this division. I don’t know about you, but I find the television and media coverage pretty limited. We’ve done well to be on Sky as much as we have done, but that wouldn’t last once we become a more permanent fixture at this level. While I’m at it, ‘The Championship’ highlights programme on Channel 5 is pretty dreadful also.

One other gripe I have is that the standard of refereeing in the Championship is noticeably poorer also. Although that has also sometimes worked in our favour, it isn’t half frustrating at times.

It’s been a decent break from losing in the Premier League most weeks. But we don’t belong here. As I say, it may appear to be a slight catch 22 situation, in so much as we’d likely go back to struggling to win games and being depressed most weeks again.

But we have to at least be in the position where we can build from that point. We can’t do that in the Championship. And the outlook is far bleaker staying down here.

I want my club to be the best it can be. And that isn’t happening in the Championship. I want us to be in a position where we can attract a certain calibre of player. I want Xia to finally show us how he is going to make us a force in football again.

In the end, promotion is obviously desperately needed this season. But ultimately if we don’t make it, perhaps it’s worth taking a step back and realising that it maybe wouldn’t quite be the end of the club as we know it just at this moment. I think we’d still have a very strong squad. We’d still have one more instalment of parachute payments (although much diminished) and there are instances of relegated teams coming back up after the first two years down here; it isn’t impossible.

But as for wanting to stay down here because it’s more enjoyable and a bit nicer, for me that is settling for second best. And as a club that can’t ever be acceptable.

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