At present Aston Villa resembles a club perpetually on the back foot.
Villa is listing under the ownership of American billionaire Randy Lerner. The 52-year-old made clear in a statement published on the club's official website at the beginning of the summer that he wants out of the Premier League and has placed the Birmingham club up for sale.
The Villains’ summer transfer business to date exhibits all of the hallmarks that one has come to associate with a club destined to battle against relegation.
Villa have so far added only the cut-price signatures of a handful of players who have consistently underwhelmed during their time in the Premier League.
This uninspiring list of arrivals is populated by Joe Cole (released by West Ham), Kieran Richardson (relegated with Fulham) and Philippe Senderos (also relegated with Fulham, though he was loaned out in January).
All are journeyman players entering the autumn of their careers, unlikely to help Villa recover to the top half of the table any time soon.
The list of outgoing players, in the meantime, is considerable.
In addition, Lerner and Lambert have sanctioned the departure of a string of players that even ardent Villa fans could be forgiven for never having heard of.
The deals agreed upon to move players like Antonio Luna, Aleksandar Tonev, Nicklas Helenius and Yacouba Sylla after just a year at the club reflects the fact that Villa have not possessed a coherent transfer strategy for quite some time.
Furthermore, previous big-money transfer flops whom the club have been unable to sell are now set to be re-integrated into Lambert’s first team.
The return of aging, overpaid talent like Darren Bent, Alan Hutton and Charles N’Zogbia, combined with the arrival of the three new signings, is a sharp reversal of the youth policy pioneered during the Scottish manager’s early period at Birmingham.
The absence of any joined-up thinking behind all of this is remarkable.
Villa’s inconsistent transfer strategy under Lambert powerfully demonstrates the chronic under-investment that has characterized the past four years of the Lerner regime.
It is Martin O’Neill’s resignation from Villa in 2010 that seems to mark the point at which Lerner decided that, rather than push for the Champions League, he would recoup some of the losses made on his investment.
O’Neill, who had led Villa to three consecutive sixth-place finishes, was reported to have quit out of frustration at what he saw as a lack of investment in the first team.
Villa had received big-money fees for players such as Stewart Downing (Liverpool), James Milner (Manchester City) and Ashley Young (Manchester United) shortly before the now-Republic of Ireland manager stood down. Virtually none of this was reinvested in the squad.
Aside from the panic purchase of Bent, it was in 2010 that investment in Villa began to dry up.
Under Lambert, it has slowed to a trickle.
It is understandable why Lerner wants out of Aston Villa. In the eight years that have passed since the American bought Doug Ellis’ controlling share for £62.6 million, Lerner’s holding company, Reform Acquisitions Limited, has hemorrhaged in excess of £217 million, according to the Daily Mail.
However, Lerner appears to be going about offloading Villa in completely the wrong way. Like any business, a football club needs to have some value in it if it is to command a reasonable fee on the market.
Lerner’s apparent refusal to back his manager in the transfer market in a bid to push Villa back up the table means that the Birmingham club are set to flirt with the drop once more this season.
The prospect of buying a team that consistently battles relegation and sells its best players is not likely to appeal to any potential investor.
The fact that Mike Ashley still owns Newcastle, despite attempting to sell the club for a lengthy period prior the Magpies’ relegation in 2009, is proof of this fact.
There has been no serious approach made to purchase Villa since the club’s availability was publicised almost four months ago, according to Simon Stone of the BBC.
It is in the interests of both Lerner and Villa, therefore, that significant investment is made in the first team ahead of the new season.
If no money is made available to Lambert in the next few weeks, both Lerner and the Villa faithful could be anchored to a ship set to sink like Leeds and Portsmouth have done before.