The winds of change are blowing. After Tim Sherwood’s arrival as manager in February it was always likely that this summer was going to be the most dramatic and most important that there had been at Villa in several years. On the eve of the start of Sherwood’s first full season as boss, here’s a look at the Good, Bad and Ugly of Villa’s 2015 pre-season.
Although it is not an obvious place to start the ‘Good’, the long overdue exit of Christian Benteke undoubtedly had its positives. There was the dignified manner in which the Belgian left for Liverpool, in stark contrast to Fabian Delph’s acrimonious exit (which I’ve chosen to ignore throughout this piece as, to be honest, I think it’s time we all moved on). More important, though, was the £32.5m that Villa received for the striker. Even with Genk’s reported 15% sell-on clause Villa were left with around £28m to play with, and they look to have spent that and the comparatively paltry £8m they received for Delph very well.
Sherwood, Tom Fox and co. have brought in Jordan3 (left-back Amavi, attacker Ayew and central midfielder Veretout), a second CM in Idrissa Gueye, centre-forward Rudy Gestede, utility defender Jose Angel Crespo and made winger Scott Sinclair’s loan deal permanent for a combined total somewhere in the region of £44m, not to mention adding Micah Richards and goalkeeper Mark Bunn on free transfers.
With the approximate £36m received for Benteke and Delph adding to the small fees from the sales of Andreas Weimann, Matt Lowton and Yacouba Sylla, Villa’s net spend so far this summer can’t be more than a couple of million (if that). At this point it seems as though the club have done superb business to improve all areas of the side while barely spending a penny in terms of net transfer fees.
If – and it’s a big if – Villa’s attacking players can replace Benteke’s massive goal contribution then the club should be in a far better position squad-wise than they ended the season in.
The return to action of Libor Kozak from his injury hell and Carles Gil from his inexplicable exile from the matchday squad have also been big plus points. Kozak hasn’t featured competitively for Villa since netting four goals in 14 Premier League appearances in late 2013 but he looked sharp and fit during pre-season, scoring three times, while Gil showed all the class that we could vaguely remember from his seven games last season before picking up an injury in the Swindon friendly.
Sinclair has also had an excellent pre-season, showing further signs (as he did on occasions last season) that he may be able to replicate the form he showed at Swansea City before his career-threatening decision to move to Manchester City. Even before his superb hat-trick at Forest on Saturday he’ll feel he has done enough to warrant a starting berth at Bournemouth, and he could become a key attacking force in midfield this season now that Villa are his new permanent home.
Finally, there’s the latest news that Ciaran Clark has penned a new five-year contract at the club. Clark has gone from being an iffy fourth choice at centre-back to arguably one of the club’s key figures, and Villa securing him on a new deal relatively early hopefully means they have learned their lesson from the debacle that ensued after they allowed Delph’s deal to run down to just six months.
Click ‘next page’ for the Bad and Ugly of preseason…