Dwight Yorke, part of the last Aston Villa side to win a trophy, says owner Randy Lerner must spend big again to save the club from disaster.
Lerner has invested £205 million in Villa in his five years of ownership, but Yorke says it is not enough.
Villa are on the edge of a crisis, flirting with relegation just one point away from the Premier League’s bottom three as they go into Saturday’s game at Everton.
Lerner fell out with former manager Martin O’Neill over the money spent on players and the wage bill and that led to O’Neill quitting five days before the season started.
Villa have not recovered from the crisis, despite Lerner finding £18m to buy Darren Bent in the January transfer window.
Bent has been a success with three goals in eight games, plus establishing himself with England, but Yorke says although Bent’s goals might save Villa, his signing is not enough.
“Aston Villa have not gone on to the greater heights we all expected,” said Yorke, who won the League Cup with Villa in 1996 and played 232 games for the club before moving to Manchester United for £12.6m.
Villa’s fall has been spectacular following three successive sixth- placed finishes and knocking on the door of European Champions League football. “Bent could become the first player to score 20 league goals in a season for Villa since Peter Withe did it 27 years ago,” said Yorke, who is now a media pundit and also works for the Laureus worldwide sports charity.
Villa will pay a total of £24m for Bent if he and the club are successful and his first task is to dig Villa out of trouble.
“What comes with a fee like that for Bent is expectation,” said Yorke. “We know he has scored a lot of goals. Whether Bent can live up to the price tag, because that tends to be a burden on players, we will see.
“Sometimes people think too much about it and lose the focus on what got them there in the first place.
“You don’t get a record like Bent has in the modern game without being capable. Whether the players will be able to create enough chances for him is another thing.”
Yorke hit 18 goals in back-to-back seasons for Villa but failed to break the 20-goal barrier.
“Aston Villa are a huge club and really should be fighting at the top,” he said. “I left Villa some 12 years ago and they haven’t really gone on to the level everybody expected.
“They’ve come close a few times, sort of huffed and puffed around the Champions League but never broken in.
“The fact that Tottenham have achieved European Champions League football should give everybody encouragement.”
Gerard Houllier, who succeeded O’Neill following Kevin MacDonald’s caretaker spell in charge, is under huge pressure with only six wins from 25 Premier League games.
Two successive defeats have plunged Villa back into trouble, with fans calling for Houllier to be sacked.
They have still to play fellow relegation-threatened clubs West Ham, West Brom and Wigan so the future is in Villa’s hands with chief executive Paul Faulkner saying Houllier will not be axed.
Lerner is refusing to comment and Yorke said: “Tottenham have invested and reinvested in their team and have got the benefit.
“That’s what you need to do. You need the players to make sure you get the rewards and that costs money.”