(Recasts with quotes, details, byline)
By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Remi Garde flew out to discuss Aston Villa's future with owner Randy Lerner this week and, with the club stuck to the foot of the table, a contingency plan for life in the second tier was probably high on the agenda.
Chief executive Tom Fox, who accompanied Frenchman Garde for talks with American Lerner, says funds will be available in January's transfer window if they are needed but no amount of panic-buying appears likely to prevent Premier League relegation.
The sacking of Tim Sherwood, just months after he led Villa to the FA Cup final, and hiring of the former Olympique Lyonnais manager has yielded no respite.
Since winning at Bournemouth on the opening day of the season, Villa have drawn three games and lost 12 and their membership of the league's ever-present club seems set to expire.
They will be bottom at Christmas and while Leicester City, now occupying top spot, and Sunderland survived from that position in the previous two seasons, Villa's plight is worse.
Leicester had 10 points from 16 games but produced top-four form thereafter. Sunderland had nine points.
One other club, Derby County in 2007-08, have collected just six points from 16 games and they were relegated with 11.
Villa should avoid breaking that record but there is scant evidence to suggest they can pull off a great escape.
A recent poll of supporters found 79 percent had already accepted the team were doomed. It really should come as no surprise.
In the last four seasons the club that were Premier League runners-up in 1993, and won the last of their seven English titles in 1981, has finished 16th, 15th, 15th and 17th.
Prized assets have been regularly sold and the trend continued this year with Christian Benteke going to Liverpool and Fabian Delph to Manchester City for a combined estimated total of 40 million pounds ($59.64 million).
Sherwood spent liberally on squad rebuilding but the likes of Jordan Ayew, Rudi Gestede, Jordan Veretout and Adama Traore have not looked up to the task.
"Remi has to determine what he wants his squad to look like and who he's got in the squad who can play the style he wants," said Fox who has taken over the daily running of the club from Lerner who wants to sell up.
"If he decides he needs something, he has the chairman's ear and his support, absolutely," he told the BBC.
Unless Garde finds Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo under his Christmas tree, the cause already seems lost, according to former Villa great Paul McGrath.
"We are going to be in the second division next year, probably third division after, and we are not going to come back," he told the Daily Mirror newspaper.
Villa visit Newcastle United on Saturday and have games with fellow strugglers Sunderland and Norwich City over the packed holiday programme.
$1 = 0.6707 pounds Additional reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Tony Jimenez