When it came to a week to go to the end of there Premier League season, when the usual suspects were prepping their first flurry of transfer window rumour bait you have to wonder if they had a file for Premier League rumours and one for Championship rumours, depending on Aston Villa’s fate?
It was the two-file system that Villa CEO Christian Purslow admitted the club adopted during the season Villa were surprisingly promoted from the Championship. Some would argue that maybe Villa had ended up purchasing a handful of players that were actually from the Championship file anyway.
The simplistic narrative that has been trotted out by some pundits (I’m looking at you, Darren Bent and Danny Mills) is that Jesus Garcia Pitarch (aka Suso) wasted £140million on load of rubbish and had to go. It’s not entirely true, some of players were bought for their potential and actually started to blossom in the restart period, with Douglas Luiz and Ezri Konsa, both 22-years-old, arguably two of the main reasons Villa beat the drop in those last four games.
Matt Targett and Frederick Guilbert are improving with game time, while the likes of Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi were already trialed in a Villa shirt on-loan, before being bought in.
In terms of the first stage of Villa’s squad overhaul, surviving in the Premier League was key to stage two, building a more formidable first XI.
The big downfall of Suso was obviously not getting suitable striker depth in place for the start of the season, and then his two main acquisitions of Wesley and Samatta looking like out and out gambles. Both owe the bank big time in terms of their lack of contribution on the pitch in paying back their combined £30m+ transfer fees.
We’ll discuss Suso’s replacement Johan Lange’s task in another article (and podcast), but let’s look at what rumours have been doing the rounds that shape Villa’s needs, before Villa’s new Sporting Director has even had chance to really sit at his desk and take stock.
The Keeper Question
One of the more interesting dilemmas Villa face is what to do with the keeper spot. Do you get a stop gap until Tom Heaton is back, i.e. a Pepe Reina-like deal, or do you, as MOMS would do, go and get a legit number one for Heaton to battle it out with for the shirt?
One of Suso’s and Smith’s main crimes in the transfer market was the transfer of Lovre Kalinić. When Villa were in a precarious FFP position dropping £7m on another keeper, after previous transfer failures in the position, was ultimately poor business. That said, the Croat keeper had been on Villa’s radar previously, so its also one for Villa’s scouting department to take on the chin as a whole.
Heaton’s recent injury record at Villa and Burnley is a concern and Villa can’t afford to compromise in such a key position, if they are indeed to push on.
Heaton should perhaps be in similar position as he was at Burnley, where he faced genuine competition in the form of two other England Internationals, Nick Pope and Joe Hart. Surely, it’s a better situation than to have him unopposed as Villa’s number one, with little serious competition.
Villa interest in Roma’s Robin Olsen has been alleged by Corriere dello Sport in Italy, but the reality of that is uncertain. It seems unlikely at this stage and potentially a lazy Lange link due to their time together at Copenhagen, that ended a couple of years ago.
Olsen had gone to Roma to replace Alisson, after he left for Liverpool, in a big money move of 12m Euros, but has since been shipped out on loan. Lange, of course, should know the true merit of the keeper – whether he’s someone Copenhagen just did good business on, or if he actually has real Premier League potential.
Villa’s bench throughout the season – despite Dean Smith’s earlier ‘quality’ statement – was lacking in just that and real options for him. More startling than the lack of depth was there were no real legit ‘bright hopes’ taking up places on the extended bench.
Villa seemingly set the tone when they went out and bought Louie Barry back to the Midlands from Barcelona, and the MailSport this week linked Villa with Hearts’ 18-year-old full-back Aaron Hickey.
The outlet claimed there’s competition with both Bologna and Bayern Munich. It fits the mood of Villa wanting to immediately upgrade their youth players, but Hickey having played a lot for the Hearts first team already and perhaps will want to carry on playing first team football?
Physically, he doesn’t currently look at the races yet for the Premier League and the expected fee of £1.5m is another factor that might put Villa off, as it doesn’t seem the right fit at the moment, but the mantra of upgrading the younger prospects is the right path.
Villa are also reported to be tailing Norwich City’s 18-year-old striker Ruben Shakpoke, amongst others.
The Grealish situation is a debate for another time, but if he does stick around, you might as well do everything to get the best out of him.
Poster boy hype and being the top of tenunious stat tables is one thing, but let’s get players in that will help Grealish influence and win cup finals, get him higher up in real stat tables like goals and assists, and take the pressure of him too.
You want other names on the team sheet for the opposition to worry about, and to show ambition to the likes of Grealish and Mings, that we intend to kick-on now.
Levante centre midfielder José Gómez Campaña has been linked with Aston Villa, who has been a mainstay of the La Liga team, after false starts at both Crystal Palace and Sampdoria, when he started to impress in his early twenties.
Would he improve what we already have in midfield? That is the yardstick and there’s no room for sentiment. We need to get players that make the likes of Conor Hourihane and John McGinn fear for their places.
Considering Aston Villa strikers have only scored one league goal since Wesley was injured in January against Burnley, tells you all you need to know about Villa’s number one priority in the transfer window and the position that gives them the greatest opportunity to improve.
Rather than take a moneybag punt, there is an opportunity to make a statement here with a proven striker. Villa have done it in the past. Getting Dean Saunders in was a successful example, while Stan Collymore perhaps was one that backfired. Still, when the player was holding up the shirt for their first signing photo, both gave Villa supporters a lift and supercharged the club’s ambition.
That is the kind of tonic the fanbase needs at the moment from the owners. A statement of intent and ambition.
Liverpool’s Divock Origi and Kelechi Iheanacho are names that are doing the rumour mill rounds, but both of these are what you’d consider fringe players that are not proven to deliver over the cause of a whole Premier League season. Their ‘used to play for a big club’ gloss might soon wipe off, if they weren’t producing the good early doors.
The main name that the local press and Villa Twitterati have Villa after is obviously Said Benrahma. While he’d certainly improve options for Smith, this is a player that has ultimately only done well at Championship level. Whether Brentford get promoted or not, he will also not come cheap with other club’s like West Ham and Leeds United interest, inflating his price.
Would Villa be getting value for a player who has yet to grace the Premier League stage?
For him to potentially increase his value upon any transfer fee paid, you’d be banking on him really catching fire for Villa.
Like they did last summer, Villa will no doubt ask the question of ‘who much?’ to Brentford and base their decision on that. They perhaps might be more willing to front up the cash for Benrahma, then they were in a similar situation with Neal Maupay, but Villa will still take a principled stance based on the economics of the deal.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how soon Wesley will be back and what Samatta’s role at the club will be? If Keinan Davis could find some sharpness and predator instinct in front of goal, that would help Dean Smith hugely, as he’s already shown he can be a useful member of Villa’s striking options.
As events have panned out with the Covid situation, Villa couldn’t have picked a worse summer transfer window to enter stage two of their rebuild. Still, they will consider themselves in a fortunate position, as even on the last day of the 2019/20 season, it could have been a lot worse.