The failure of Randy Lerner to sell the club was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the preseason, it fizzled in the background as the Villa Park soap opera reached a climax with the team’s captain turning into a snake.
You have to go back to January to when the real damage was done with Fabian Delph, and the club’s marketing/PR department are as much at fault as the player himself. With an £8m release clause in his contract, there was no chance that Delph was playing for Villa in the 2015/16 season, so why patronise supporters with the big ‘loyalty’ fanfare?
Also, what were the board doing pitching up at £8m as a release clause in the first place? Delph was only going to go to a ‘Top Four’ club (wanting to make up its home quota) and a clause of £10m to £14m would still have been as enticing and considered cheap to them – i.e. way below market value for a captain and England international. Have some self-respect in the future, Villa board!
The inevitable exodus of Christian Benteke, actually gave Lerner something of a get-out-of-jail card, as he could then be seen to be investing in his new manager, without really incurring a significant net spend. His hand was ultimately forced, as failure to replace Villa’s two key men would have pretty much guaranteed relegation, with the Villa owner crucially missing out on a share of the 5.6bn TV bounty of next season.
Why losing the want-away Benteke wasn’t ideal, the money reaped from his transfer at least gave Sherwood a proper chance to stamp his mark on the team with wholesale changes and this is where we begin our first five reasons to be cheerful as a Villa fan of the new season:
1. New stock on the Villa shelves
It would be naive to start hyping Villa’s new recruits just yet, but at least three of the French Ligue imports seem to be cut from decent cloth. Jordan Amavi, Jordan Veretout and Idrissa Gueye, as well as improving the team should also provide Villa with a lot more style too. Jordan Ayew and also French striker Rudy Gestede (signed from Blackburn) will ultimately be judged by their goals. Expect maybe a couple of other new faces in too.
2. Johnny English Value
To be honest, unlike Greg Dyke, I couldn’t care less about a nationality of a player, but Villa perhaps made two of the best value signings of English players in this transfer window.
Ex-Manchester City duo Micah Richards (a free) and Scott Sinclair, cost £2.5m in total, which is cracking business when you consider both players are at an age where they should be coming into their prime, if their desire is still burning bright.
Both could prove as important to Villa this season as the more exotic French Ligue imports. Richards has already been made team captain, while Sinclair’s hat-trick against Forest at the weekend was something of a masterclass in finishing. It’s certainly the best thing that has happened in Villa’s new yellow away kit so far.
3. Returning Jack
MOMS went down to the Lamb last week to see Jack Grealish’s first outing since picking up an injury in Portugal. His 60 minutes with Villa’s Under-21’s against a feisty Tamworth side proved a decent physical work out for Grealish, but as Sherwood confirmed, he’s not fit enough yet for the first team.
Against Tamworth, a composed Grealish was happy to tick things over for the team rather than trying to impress himself on the game, as Callum Robinson seemed eager to do with little success.
When Grealish was introduced to Sherwood’s team at the end of last season, his first six games after his debut saw him enjoy a 94% pass accuracy with a high rate of key passes and some important assists. But it is unfair to pile too much pressure and expectation on his young shoulders just yet.
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In the final games of last season, Sherwood tended to keep with the same starting XI, but this season he may be more flexible with his formations giving Carles Gil and Scott Sinclair more of a look-in, along with any potential new winger.
It will be interesting to see if Sherwood decides to accommodate both Grealish and Gil in his favoured starting XI, as Sherwood has highlighted both of them for a more central No.10 role, as opposed to using them wider.
4. Villa Park Sparkle
Villa Park’s North Stand exterior finally got an overdue jet wash in preseason. Hallelujah!
The main reason may have been because the stadium will be hosting a couple of Rugby World Cup games, but lets hope it proves a symbolic cleansing of sorts on the pitch in the new season.
Villa’s shocking home record of recent seasons under Lambert was the worst in the club’s history and it needs to be washed away from our memories asap. The first steps of Villa improving their overall fortunes has to start with winning regularly at Villa Park and making ‘home advantage’ a concept again in B6.
5. The Dang Flag Flies
After the club’s marketing team failed to run MOMS Villa supporter-funded giant Wembley surfer design by the FA before they gave us their consent to go ahead, and then the FA substantially banned it, we’ve been left with a bit of a dilemma. While in the online universe people think ‘whatever’ and their attention quickly moves onto the next thing, in the real world a 90kg giant 20×20 metre flag isn’t the easiest of beasts to manage.
For the last two months the good folk of the Green Man pub at Wembley looked after it for us. Then the gents at Nottingham Forest agreed to let us display it in the upper tier of the Villa end during last weekend’s friendly (see below video).
Unfortunately the stand wasn’t big enough to allow us to give it a full viewing, so we folded it to show the punk rock font ‘ASTON VILLA’. In all likelihood we’ll get the flag cut down to that bit to be used as a surfer on the lower North Stand or Upper Holte, although it would be good to see the whole thing at least once.
If anyone has any good ideas to what the offcuts of NEVER MIND THE ARSENAL bit could be used for (we could make something out of the letters for example) let us know via the comments or by email.
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