With Villa now looking to the 2017/18 season already, with there only being a 100/1 shot at the play-offs now, the question of who the club needs to sign to complete the squad for next season is coming to the forefront.
While Sunderland proved in 2006/07 that a poor Premier League finish of 15 points could be turned around to a Championship-winning season the following year, Villa have stuttered in their attempt to build a promotion threatening team. Most fans expected it might take a couple of seasons, but almost all expected we’d be at least closer to the play-off spots than we currently are.
The vast amount of money has been spent with Villa picking up the tag of the ‘Galácticos of the Championship’ having harvested some of the best players of fellow Championship clubs. The big spending though has perhaps come to an end, with Villa CEO Keith Wyness recently hinting the club would be less active this summer.
So what’s the main priority?
A Drop in Standards
Considering what happened this season, the most important position to sort out will be the goalkeeping spot. Until recent seasons, the club always had a good reputation for their number ones. Whether it be long-term keepers like Jimmy Rimmer, Nigel Spink and Mark Bosnich or stop-gap keepers like David James (when he wasn’t flapping in FA Cup finals), Peter Schmeichel and Brad Friedel.
Villa took a wrong turn the last summer transfer window trying to replace the diminishing returns of Brad Guzan (a Premier League number 2 at best). First of all, they should have signed two keepers including an experienced No.1, and secondly, perhaps Roberto Di Matteo should have listened to the various Villa scouting reports that advised not to buy Pierluigi Gollini.
Sam Johnstone’s loan signing in January bought puzzlement from some sections of the Villa support. Wasn’t the signing just repeating the Gollini mistake?
Johnstone’s stock and reputation in scouting circles was a lot higher than Gollini’s. Plus, Manchester United wouldn’t have given him a new contract recently in October, if they didn’t rate him. The player just needed games to settle him down and the past month or so has demonstrated a more assured keeper.
“He’s grown into the role. He’s now more comfortable in the role – and he’s got that from playing,” said Villa boss, Steve Bruce, recently.
The Villa manager has publicly stated that he wants to retain the keeper’s service next season and is looking to break bread with Jose Mourinho to discuss the possibility.
“If there’s an opportunity that we can get him to play more next season I would love to do it,” said Bruce
Recent newspaper reports have suggested several Premier League clubs are interested in Johnstone, but none of them seem a creditable prospect of offering him first-team football. The main threat to Villa’s wishes is what United have planned for him.
The Red Devil in the Detail
Johnstone is currently third choice goalkeeper at United behind David De Gea and Sergio Romero, but Romero has been mooted to move on. Would Villa’s current keeper settle for being De Gea’s back-up, with the view that De Gea’s desire to return to Spain may present an opportunity for him to be United’s number one sooner rather than later.
Of course, it’s important for Villa to get their own regular keeper in place rather than baby sit and develop another club’s player. A report in the Daily Telegraph suggested Villa could offer in the region of £3 million to sign the player permanently.
You’d think there could be some kind a first refusal/buy back clause for United, which would make sense from their point of view. It would still certainly be better for Villa than a season-loan next season.
However, if Johnstone is on the top of the list for summer signings, whether it be a loan or permanent move, a decent experienced keeper to provide both competition and security should also be brought in.
Next season, nothing should be left to chance.
There’s more discussion on Sam Johnstone’s recent showings in the latest episode of the My Old Man Said podcast. Listen below or via one of the following Acast / iTunes / Tunein / Stitcher / PlayerFM.