By Kris Woodward
With the season entering its final stages, preparation for next season will soon start, if not already be in the back of Dean Smith’s mind. Up until recently, Villa will have been planning for a fourth season in the Championship. However, with a string of excellent results, Villa’s league future is now uncertain.
Considering where Villa where a month ago, it would be miraculous for them to claim a play-off place in the last eight games and subsequently win the play-offs. However, Villans everywhere are beginning to dream again.
Should Villa go up to the Premier League then the playing staff is anybody’s guess. Fulham’s example last season of taking an in-form squad who played attractive football and essentially buying a new starting XI seemed ludicrous. This however, is a prime example of how teams get desperate about surviving in the Premier League.
For the sake of this article, and not wanting to tempt fate, it will look into Villa’s squad dilemma for another season in the Championship.
It’s no secret that Aston Villa have needed an overhaul in the squad for several seasons. Some of Villa’s recent transfer activity has sided on the short-term with loan signings, while attempts at long-term squad building have been dubious at best. Nobody will ever be able to justify or explain Jordan Bowery to name just one…
Then of course, there’s been poor judgement, from offering high wages to injury-prone players like Micah Richards, to extending the high-wage contracts of demotivated players like Gabby Agbonlahor.
This week Aston Villa announced Jed Steer had signed a new one-year contract. Steers’ contract had been due to expire this summer, however after returning from a loan spell at Charlton, and injuries to both Orjan Nyland and Lovre Kalinic, Steer has enjoyed a run of games in the first team. So much so, there are now some question marks over the pecking order when all three keepers are fit.
Jordan Lyden recently uploaded an Instagram post outlining that he will be leaving Aston Villa, presumably because a new contract had not been offered.
In the run up to the end of the season, there are potentially thirteen players who are out of contract in Summer 2019.
If you would have asked the majority of fans a few months ago whether Whelan should get a new contract, not many would have agreed. A recent resurge in form and some impressive displays may have fans questioning that decision.
Whelan has offered decent cover of late with Villa’s midfield injuries, and with a fully fit squad would probably start most games on the bench. Whelan has often been used to come on when Villa are leading and see out games.
Aston Villa would no doubt need cover next season, but at 35, this is a job that Birkir Bjarnson or even on-loan Tom Carroll, should he sign permanently, do.
With there being rumours that Mile Jedinak would depart in January, it then wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Mile won’t be offered a new contract and will leave Villa Park next season. Especially when you consider he is rumoured to be one of Villa’s higher earners.
It’s hard to see Mark Bunn being offered a new contract. Arguably, Bunn could currently be 5thchoice behind Kalinic, Steer, Nyland and potentially Sarkic.
Goalkeepers doesn’t seem to be an area in which Villa are struggling with right now, meaning the 34-year-old goalkeeper will be searching for a new club this summer.
With Steer signing a one-year contract, this would surely mean he stays at Villa next season. It wouldn’t make much sense to extend Steer’s contract to send him on another loan. With Nyland and Kalinic both recently signing on a permanent this year, it will surely mean curtains for Bunn.
Probably the most difficult of decisions, Alan Hutton really is a fan favourite. It seemed as though Hutton’s time at Villa was to end last season. However, a fantastic run of form in the final stages of the season, earnt himself a new one-year contract.
Hutton’s form this year has been up and down, mainly due to being played out of position at left back, covering various injuries.Embed from Getty Images
Hutton will be 34-years-old at the end of the season, leaving serious questions whether his contract will be renewed. Whilst performances can be called into question, one thing that can never be judged is his passion for the club, despite at times being treated rather poorly.
However, now will be the time to freshen up the squad and transition fully into the direction Dean Smith wants to go.
Villa’s Head Coach has already drafted in Frederic Guilbert From Caen, who will no doubt be his starting right-back, while James Bree (currently on loan at Ipswich) and/or Ahmed Elmohamady may compete with him. No doubt Villa will considering off loading one of those those right-back options.
Ritchie De Laet (currently on loan at Melbourne City; contract due to expire this summer also) will no doubt be left to become a free agent.
Hutton will leave Villa on good-terms. While he has been seen by some as the omnipresent symbol of Villa’s recent decline, after being signed by Alex McLeish, his personal journey at the club from bomb squad outcast to scoring his stunning goal against the Blues, as been a triumph.
Another player whose treatment at times hasn’t been the best is Tommy Elphick.
Possibly the most head-scratching decision at Villa this season was when Steve Bruce sent Elphick out on loan to Hull City, with Villa already lacking in centre-back options.
There were rumours of a bust-up between player and manager in the dressing room at the Burton cup exit, which might explain some of it.
When Dean Smith came in though, Elphick was re-called in January to cover injuries, and has played a solid role since returning.
Elphick is also one of the most experienced defenders in Villa’s squad at this level, captaining Bournemouth to the Championship title in the 2014-15 season.
With the centre-back now 31, whether he is offered a new contract, will likely come down the league Villa will be playing in. However, his recent injury may not have helped proceedings and it seems typical of his stop-start time at the club.
Should Villa get promotion, fans would want to see Tyrone Mings signed on a permanent and form a partnership with Chester (or a new centre back).
Should Aston Villa remain in the Championship then Elphick would prove an experienced option, either as cover or in the starting XI.
However, as a free agent, I can see Elphick moving on to pastures new.
A name fans won’t be calling for to stay. Micah arrived to a lot of hype, with fans excited by the free transfer. Straight into the back line and made captain during his first season, his Villa career looked promising.
How wrong we were…
Richards, who reportedly picks up around £50k-a- week, last game came in October 2016 (interestingly enough, Bruce’s first game in charge), it’s now March 2019.
That means that since being injured in that game, Richards has picked up an estimated £3 million-plus in wages despite coming nowhere near the first team – just let that sink in.Embed from Getty Images
Richards’ footballing career is now widely believed to be over due to injury (don’t mention the word ‘insurance’!), which MOMS sources say the player initially found it hard to come to terms with.
Interestingly the club and player have decided to take a radio silence approach on it, which has unfortunately left Villa supporters with very little sympathy for Richards (who isn’t necessarily the bad apple he’s been made out to be).
So it seems that Richards will officially retire when his current deal runs out this summer.
Best of the rest
Other notable names whose deals are set to expire are the likes of: Ritchie De Laet, Harry McKirdy, Easah Suliman, Callum O’Hare, Kelsey Mooney, Mitchell Clark and Harvey Knibbs.
With the exception of Ritchie De Laet, the majority of these are of the younger members of the squad. The futures of these are uncertain, this will be down to what Smith sees in training with first team appearances few amongst the group.
The stand out name amongst this group is Callum O’Hare – who will no doubt be having contract talks soon. Considered quite the prospect amongst the Villa youth set up, O’hare was sent out on loan to Carlisle, shortly after making his first start for Villa against Swansea, in the FA Cup.
It’ll be certainly interesting to see how contract talks pan out for O’Hare and what conviction the club have in him.
Ritchie De Laet is another player whose future is unclear. Again, a player whose Villa career promised so much but has been plagued by injuries, De Laet has struggled to hold down a regular starting spot since joining.
With Bree returning and Elmohamady having another year running on his contract, like Hutton, he will probably be searching for a new club come the summer.
What does this mean for the Villa squad?
With the exception of Hutton and Whelan, none of these players are regularly in the first team and a few of them are known to be on a significant wages. Waving goodbye will no doubt be good news for Aston Villa’s financial situation.
In terms of FFP, this will be a key window in terms of shedding some excess baggage, especially if the club remain in the division in the worst case scenario.
Whatever division Villa are in next season will very much influence the look of the squad going into next season. However it looks in terms of quality though, Smith will see the summer as a time to refresh and reboot.
If a player’s contract is running out this summer, then it’s hard to see them being offered any additional playing time in the claret and blue.