It had been six months since Larry had walked through the doors at Villa Park. In that time he had completely restructured the club, completed an overhaul of the coaching staff, secured a new foreign affiliate club and reduced the squad size to raise £24 million in cash, in doing that they also saved over £300,000 per week in wages.
Financially they were unbelievably still losing money but it was approaching a more manageable mark and the Chairman had promised him £5 million to rebuild his now depleted team.
With this in mind, Fredericks and Butcher had spent six months working long weekends and sometimes very late nights. They had sat and read hundreds if not thousands of scout reports and on numerous occasions even travelled around Europe to watch certain players.
Between them, they had a hit list of players who they believed would make Villa a stronger unit. Before the season had finished they had secured pre-contract agreements with John Johansen (LB), Joe Williams (CM), Keiren Westwood (GK), Patrick Harris (DMC) and Tiago Macedo (SC).
Macedo who had done so much for Larry at Motherwell was a great capture, the 21-year-old Portuguese striker had let his contract run down at Benfica so could now move on a free transfer.
Larry knew they needed further investment and numbers through the door and fully intended on delivering just that over the preseason period.
It was at this point that Dr. Tony Xia called Larry to a board meeting. This wasn’t strange and happened on the odd occasion before but when Larry turned up at Villa Park there were assembled press and camera crews waiting for him. He hustled past and went to find out what on earth was going on.
The Chairman was waiting for him and delivered the news.
Financial fair play rules had been breached. It transpired that Larry had been kept in the dark over the trouble Villa were really in and it didn’t sit well. The club would now face a period of time where they would be unable to buy players. A transfer ban would be a real problem, mainly because Larry currently had only fifteen first team players to work with. The ban stated they could bring in players on free transfers and loans only.
That wasn’t the end of the bad news though, Dr. Xia also said that promotion this year had to happen, anything short of a return to the Premier League would leave the club facing Administration and a possible wind up the order.
The £5 million transfer kitty Larry was promised was gone and on top of that Sporting Director Ian Aitkens who had been asked to secure the signing of South African midfielder Patrick Harris had failed to secure a work permit for the player but signed him anyway, this means he had to be loaned out for the next 12 months to a club playing in Europe.
Larry had relayed all this to Terry Butcher as they sat that night back at the training ground. 75% of their summer targets were now not an option and they had to rethink their approach. They even spoke briefly about walking away themselves but Butcher had put those thoughts to bed, he was still confident they could create something special here.
Next day the players came in demanding to know what was happening and a few of them were looking to move on. Larry did his best to front up and promised he would do his best so that come the first game of the season Villa would be more than competitive.
Only operating in free transfers put to bed three deals they were 80% finalised on so once again Terry and Larry found themselves working late into the night to find new players.
Joe Williams and Kyle Walker-Peters joined on free transfers with Conan Ronan and Trevor Chalobah making the move on season-long loan deals. Larry knew he needed more if Villa were to mount a promotion bid but he also needed money.
There was one option left open, he didn’t like it but It would possibly solve all his and the clubs problems.
The big target man had been fantastic and Fredericks knew he had a big future in the game but £13 million pounds put the club in the green and once ratified by the FA gives Larry some room to manoeuvre in the transfer market.
By the end of the window, Larry had done his best to reshape the squad and give it some much-needed depth.
David Brooks, Phillip Billing, Luke McGee, and Taylor Moore all cost good money and they were joined with impressive season-long loan deals for Jack Stephens and Kazaih Sterling.
Richard Herrera joined from Penarol for £2 million pounds but failed to gain a work permit so just like Patrick Harris, he will spend the next 12 months playing on the continent.
On a results front apart from the odd blip Villa were progressing well. The new players had nearly all offered something and Larry was feeling confident about the season ahead. Kazaiah Sterling, the on-loan Spurs striker was most impressive and after notching a hat-trick on his debut and another the following week he was really beginning to set the league alight.
League Cup victories over two Premier league sides in Newcastle and Bournemouth had given the squad the belief they needed and as Christmas approached they were sat on top of the table having suffered just two league defeats all season.
The transfer window in January wasn’t overly busy but Fredericks did open the chequebook again.
Ryan Gauld an experienced Scottish International from Sporting and Tetsuhiro Kodama, a Japanese midfielder both joined up. However, the most exciting capture for the Villa faithful was to happen on deadline day when Kazaiah Sterling who had already surpassed the 20 goals mark made his move from Tottenham a permanent one.
As the season progressed it began to look like a four-horse race and then that became three when Preston fell away. Results had held strong up until April when the first signs of nerves started to show in Fredericks young side.
With three games to go Villa needed 4 points for promotion and the penultimate game of the season would be at home to Crystal Palace who were currently sat second in the table.
A win at Charlton would mean all they had to do was avoid defeat at home the following week. Unfortunately for Fredericks fate has a very bad sense of humour.
With only injury time remaining Aston Villa were top of the league and certainties for promotion, what happened next would scar Fredericks and all Villa fans for the rest of their lives.
85th Minute – Charlton 1-2 Villa, Rotherham 2-1 Brighton, Palace 0-0 Preston.
90th Minute – Charlton 2-2 Villa, Rotherham 2-2 Brighton, Palace 0-0 Preston.
94th Minute – Charlton 3-2 Villa, Rotherham 2-3 Brighton, Palace 0-0 Preston.
97th Minute – Charlton 3-2 Villa, Rotherham 2-3 Brighton, Palace 1-0 Preston.
From the top of the league to third in the table in a matter of minutes and now the Palace game is huge.
Fredericks and Butcher felt sure that this moment in time had rocked everyone at the club. They did their best to pick everyone up but defeats to Palace and then Preston on the final day meant after spending 75% of the season on top of the pile, Aston Villa would now have to fight it out in the playoffs.
Bristol City would be the opponents in a two-legged affair. Frederick made changes, hoping that fresh faces would change the mood in the camp. Liam Mandeville had been the forgotten man this season due to Sterling’s excellent form. The young man had never complained though and would now get his chance.
And take that chance he did. It wasn’t the best team performance but Mandeville came good when it mattered. This battling win was followed up by a 2nd leg victory where once again Mandeville scored a brace to take the tie 4-1 overall.
A Wembley appearance was something Fredericks had always wanted to experience, he would obviously of rather it been in a cup final but this is the way the football Gods wanted it to play out.
Brentford are a very good team and had already beaten Villa twice this season, 2-1 on both occasions. Larry decided to be brave and Mandeville would stay up front with Sterling and Macedo. Fredericks was going for it and he threw caution to the wind with his line up.
Utter Heartbreak. Twice Villa fell behind but twice they battled back and on another day should have won more comfortably, over 25 attempts at Brentford’s goal but just the 8 of them forced their keeper into action. Another goal from Mandeville and one for Sterling to make it 28 league goals for the season just weren’t enough.
A good ninety minutes after the final whistle Terry Butcher found Fredericks sat in the dugout looking out at a near-empty stadium. This was the first time he had felt a failure in his short managerial career and it hurt. The past nine weeks couldn’t have gone any worse and what worried Larry was his failure to be able to turn it around.
The squad would be fragile and that in turn would make next season even harder to get them going in the right direction again. Of course, all of this was material really as Dr. Xia had told him back in August that it was promotion or bust for the Football Club and for him.
Two weeks later when the air had cleared Larry Fredericks left a board meeting at Villa Park. He had been given a new two-year contract. The board had seen the great strides the club had made on the field and more importantly to them the reductions in costs Larry had made off it meaning they weren’t looking at Administration any longer.
Once again Fredericks would lead this team into a Championship season and hopefully one with a happier ending than the last!