Aston Villa’s Transfer Evolution
By Rob Richards
The Almost Men
At a recent Aston Villa Fan Consultation Group meeting Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow stated the club “almost” got every one of their targets in the summer transfer window. Whilst this could be referencing multiple targets, it’s public knowledge the club made a bid for Callum Wilson from Bournemouth and there was a lot of press fuss about Werder Bremen’s Milot Rashica.
Looking at these potential signings, it certainly an indication to where Villa’s current squad is in terms of depthand whether they still the personnel in the ‘almost’ signing positions.
Purslow was most likely referring to Wilson in his summation of the summer window. It’s no secret that Villa started the season with a lack of depth and options in the striker position. Luckily, in terms of the first XI, Watkins hit the ground running and stayed fit.
With Wesley never likely to play in 2020, Wilson would have certainly added an established and experienced Premier League striker to the ranks. Surely it would have been a case of Wilson and Watkins, if they had a offer on the table for Wilson. The former Bournemouth striker, with his history of injuries suggests Villa wouldn’t have relied on him like they have with Watkins.
Despite his public posturing, it’s unlikely that Dean Smith would have been completely happy starting the season with just the options of Watkins and the inexperienced Keinan Davis. Wilson would of course have given Watkins competition and would allow Davis to get much-needed minutes on loan at another club.
So what happened to the quest for another striker?
You get the sense that Villa are only buying players if they are the exact fit or if opportunity knocks. A decent striker available on loan for this season would have surely entered Bodymoor Heath in the summer, if there was such a thing available.
It’s certainly been a missing link in terms of keeping Villa keen in the top five or so in the table this term. Having got to 2021 though, and with Wesley taking part in training again, it’s obvious the Brazilian will now slot in and become a proverbial ‘new signing’.
So what of the Kosovan winger Milot Rashica? Who according to his agent Arlind Sadiku in the summer, would leave Bremen “by the end of the week”. Rashica had allegedly reached an agreement with Leipzig but apparently “Aston Villa’s offer is the most important for Werder and it likely that Rashica will be transferred to the Premier League next week”.
This deal looked dead in the water, as soon as the summer window shut. If Villa were looking for an additional wide option Bertrand Traore was now in the building, and fast-forward to the present day, and despite having been nominated for Premier League Player of the Month in December, Anwar El Ghazi is now a spectator sitting on the bench. With Trezeguet also fit again, there’s surely no need for another wide option.
The trio Grealish, Traore and El Ghazi who have played wide for Villa in recent months have had no difficulty in assisting and scoring goals and being an integral part of Villa’s surge up the table, especially with the recent purple patches for Traore and El Ghazi.
One quality that Rashica did offer is the ability to run and drive at the opposition from midfield, but it’s hoped that Villa’s sole January signing Morgan Sanson will add some of that kind of attacking dynamism to Villa, even if it’s from a more central position.
Speaking of the midfield, currently it’s well served and Sanson as well as potentially covering a number of positions in midfield, also offers some long-term security when it comes to the future of loanee Ross Barkley in the summer. Despite this winter window touted as a quiet one for many clubs, let alone Aston Villa – the purchase of Morgan Sanson was one of opportunity. He’d been on Smith’s radar for the last year or so, and with Marseille needing to generate funds due to the Mediapro contact collapse, he was available for a cut price figure.
The only niggle at the moment is perhaps a left-back to provide cover and competition for the vastly improved Matt Targett. However, Neil Taylor is solid enough to fill in when needed on a short-term basis. Left-back depth is certainly something that can wait until the summer.
In reflection of the two previous transfer windows, Villa’s recruitment team have been successful and have assured the club hasn’t had to go wanting massively, allowing the team to develop and push on higher up the table.
Wilson would have been good cover/support for Watkins, but luckily Villa have managed to get through to this stage of the season with Watkins ever present. Meanwhile, even just the idea of signing Rashica was soon forgotten mere weeks into the season, as it soon became apparent there were plenty of legitimate options in the wide positions, who had helped turn Villa into one of the most attractive teams to watch this season.
The purchase of Sanson reinforces both Villa’s ambition and planning this year, and demonstrates that the squad is now all about evolution over revolution. Purslow’s potential “almosts” would have cost the club a good few pounds, but in hindsight it looks like the club have done well to save the money.
Additional reporting: David Michael