It wasn’t meant to be like this for Remi Garde.
We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all taken decisions we instantly regret. We’ve all arrived somewhere, taken one look around and immediately thought “Oh, sh*t, I don’t belong here.” If you’re lucky it’s just a shop, or a pub, or a church, and you can quickly spin on your heels, pop your hat back on and go about your day.
However, if you’re unlucky it’s a job. As soon as you walk through the door there’s an atmosphere about the place, something stinks (metaphorically or literally) and before you’ve even sat down you’re already mentally scouring the paperwork looking for a get-out. The next five years stretch out before you, long and unbearable, and suddenly all the reasons you left your old job disappear, it starts to seem like the greatest gig of all time that you can’t believe you left. Like the Bluths, you’ve made a huge mistake.
You’d imagine Remi Garde has that feeling at the moment. Actually, alarm bells were probably ringing back in November, after he took the Aston Villa gig and watched their game against Tottenham from the stands, observing as Dele Alli and Harry Kane sliced through them like a flick knife on warm Babybel. He’d have been forgiven for excusing himself, jumping out of the toilet window and sprinting back to France.
But he’s there now, in charge of Aston Villa as they sink slowly but inevitably to the bottom of the Premier League pond, not so much like a stone, because at least that would be quick, but more like an old handkerchief, gradually gathering water and drop, drop, dropping.
Villa currently have eight points from 20 games, just a point more than the ‘historic’ Derby team of 2007/08 had at the same stage, the one that Billy Davies and Paul Jewell guided to 11 points over the season. Villa have won one game all season, which was on the first day against Bournemouth, and at the weekend were given a relatively firm shoeing by the Premier League’s second-biggest sh*tshow, Sunderland. It was a match which featured defending that should really have been soundtracked with a swanee whistle.
This is not all Garde’s fault, of course. It’s not even all his predecessor Tim Sherwood’s fault, although it is tempting to blame it on football’s answer to the Duke from Layer Cake. It’s not even all Randy Lerner’s fault, the man who got a Villa tattoo a few years ago but who now can barely be bothered with the place. This is a club that has been left to gradually rot, crumbling away as players are sold with inadequate replacements, as Matt Stead wrote recently. And yet unless he hightails it out of there before May just to save a little face, Garde will have a relegation on his CV, in black and white terms the man in charge as they dropped out of the top flight for the first time in 28 years.
What’s quite worrying is that after only a couple of months, things already seem to be taking their toll. Garde has managed to get involved in minor spats of various sorts with Sam Allardyce, one of them over a handshake, huffed off before a post-match press conference and even managed to annoy the mild-mannered manager’s mild-mannered manager Guus Hiddink. None of these are heinous sins or signs that someone is unravelling, but they do suggest a man whose emotions are swirling, to say the least.
This wasn’t, to offer quite an understatement, the plan. Garde was a highly thought-of manager before arriving in England, winning the Coupe de France and achieving three top-five league finishes with Lyon, and was tipped by some as a potential replacement for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. His reputation was high, and after a year’s sabbatical he arrived at Villa, perhaps not quite appreciating how bad things were in the Midlands. He looked so bright and optimistic when he got here too, optimism that has long been smacked out of him by the trials of Villa. Poor Remi.
He didn’t have to take the job. He probably would’ve had any number of interesting opportunities around Europe, as a manager, coach, director of football or any number of the other spurious positions people invent when their mate needs a gig. But for some reason the lure of Villa was too much, and a large part of that must have been that it was a chance to work in the Premier League, this most glitzy of prizes that everyone, including even Pep Guardiola, wants a piece of. Just being here seems to be enough for some people, to the extent that they’ll sign for any old team; you’d get pretty long odds on Juan Iturbe having heard of Bournemouth a year ago, but there he is now, waiting to line-up for them at the weekend.
Garde, unless he really likes a challenge or wanted to walk the same halls as Ian Ormondroyd once did, wanted a slice of this seemingly most intoxicating pie too. It’s a little like those prospectors who thought California was literally made of gold in the 1850s and risked everything to get there. For many, like Garde, it wasn’t quite as they thought it would be.
You could say that this is an example of the irresistible lure of the Premier League, and you could say that this is a good thing. A look into the eyes of the Aston Villa manager might reveal otherwise. It wasn’t meant to be like this for Remi Garde.