Promoted Aston Villa are spending, and spending big. Is there a clear direction, or are they frantically making up the numbers? Here, we take a closer look at their business so far…
After a three-year absence from the Premier League, Villa mean business. With just under four weeks of the window remaining, that business equates to around £100m, more than any top-flight side and making up around a sixth of all Premier League spending.
With the help of Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett, we assess Villa’s signings, what they still need, and whether ‘Doing a Fulham’ is a fair comparison…
Who have Villa bought?
After releasing Albert Adomah, Tommy Elphick, Glenn Whelan, Mile Jedinak and Alan Hutton, plus the end of loans for Anwar El Ghazi, Axel Tuanzebe, Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause and Tammy Abraham, Villa had serious gaps to plug.
After promotion, the squad list on the official website included just four defenders, and the spine of their promotion-winning team was in danger of rupturing.
First came Jota (£4m), a surprise signing from rivals Birmingham, where he never quite replicated the form he showed under Dean Smith at Brentford, before play-off final goalscorer El Ghazi (£8m) rejoined from Lille as Villa filled the gaping holes on the wing.
Chelsea’s transfer ban meant 26-goal Abraham stayed at Stamford Bridge, so Villa looked to Europe as striker Wesley (£22m) joined from Club Brugge, and with Scott Hogan, Jonathan Kodjia and Keinan Davis the men battling the 22-year-old Brazilian, don’t be surprised to see one more striker arrive before August 8.
Hause, an adept replacement in spurts for Mings and Tuanzebe last season, was secured from Wolves (£3m), before Matt Targett (£11m) arrived from Southampton as a first-choice left-back.
Villa fans’ incessant calls to ‘Announce Mings‘ were answered in early July as the defender arrived (£20m), widely seen as the most important signing so far following his outstanding performances in the Championship, before Brentford’s Ezri Konsa (£12m) arrived beside him in central defence with Tuanzebe seemingly getting his chance at Manchester United.
With that all-important Mings signing, Dorsett believes Villa accept they have overspent, with the £20m fee rising to £25m with add-ons.
He told the Transfer Talk Podcast: “Privately I think Villa accept they’ve paid a bit too much for Mings – they’ll never say that publicly, of course – but Smith wanted him, and to get it over the line quickly to get him really settled in for the new season. But Bournemouth did have them over a barrel.
“Christian Purslow, Villa’s CEO, told me last year they only wanted to do loan deals for players where there is an option to buy, and didn’t want to improve players for other teams. They couldn’t get that with Mings, however, and they nearly walked away from the January loan deal.
“They did get a matching clause, where Villa were able to match another club’s bid for Mings and he could decide where to go, but Villa were the only team in for Mings. They were desperate for another club to come in with a lower bid, like £12m, for Villa to match, but it never came. Bournemouth wouldn’t back down, and I think Villa did pay a little too much, but Smith is confident he’s got a very, very good player there. When you see £80m touted for Harry Maguire, it could be a great deal.”
Belgian defender Bjorn Engels is on his way from Reims, and the news that defensive midfielder Douglas Luiz is nearing a move from Manchester City sent Villa fans into overdrive on Friday morning. The 21-year-old highly-rated Brazilian, who Pep Guardiola desperately wanted for his 2018/19 squad only to be scuppered by work permit issues, should join for £15m, including a buy-back clause.
“These are big deals, big names,” Dorsett adds. “A lot of Premier League fans, let alone City fans, will remember the excitement when they bought him in two years ago. Pep was very vocal against the UK Home Office when he was denied a work permit.
“Even though he has drifted away from consciousness, he has impressed an awful lot of people in La Liga on loan at Girona. Villa think £15m is an absolute snip. It would be a big one.”
Enough? Not yet. The staff behind the scenes at Bodymoor Heath are racking up the days in lieu, with Villa also chasing a goalkeeper having had approaches for Jack Butland and Tom Heaton denied. Another winger and striker are also on the wishlist.
Just over a year after financial meltdown seemed imminent, suddenly Villa are the talk of the window. Sound familiar?
The next Fulham?
Villa fans will be hoping the club have learned a lesson from previous spending. The summer of 2015 saw them chuck £60m on players, yielding just 17 Premier League points – that’s £3.5m per point – as they took a running jump to the Championship.
Though relegation clauses were served, Villa struggled with the leftovers: a huge wage bill, many wanting out, but not much interest.
What’s different this time? That remains to be seen, but using the example of Fulham’s disastrous 2018/19 campaign is somewhat flawed.
After beating Villa in the play-off final, they themselves spent £100m, only to be relegated with 26 points, but history shows this was more an anomaly than a trait promoted teams should look to avoid.
Of the six promoted Premier League sides to have registered a net spend of over £50m, Fulham are the only side to fall at the end of the season. Recently, Wolves (2018/19), Brighton (2017/18), Bournemouth (2015/16) and Watford (2015/16) have all spent big and been rewarded.
Last six promoted sides with net spend of £50m+
|Promoted team||Net spend||Stayed up?|
With this, the term ‘Doing a Fulham’ should be taken with a pinch of salt. Though getting quality through the door is undoubtedly important, it must be accompanied by clear direction, solidity behind the scenes and squad cohesion. Villa currently have this in adundance, but a ball has not been kicked.
Is the spending risky? Dorsett believes it is, but that only epitomises the ambition the club’s owners have.
“I think it is [risky]. What’s very, very clear is that Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris are ambitious, very rich men, and they wanted to spend an awful lot more in the Championship as well. They felt frustrated by this, and now they’re in the Premier League, with a big financial windfall, they are spending big.
“It does emphasise how ambitious Villa are. They will have looked at Wolves and how successful they’ve been. And Aston Villa are still, whether there are arguments about this or not, the biggest club in the Midlands. They are a huge, huge club with huge support and huge commercial activity going on.”
What is Villa’s policy?
Of Villa’s nine signings, seven are under the age of 24, meaning they’ll have one of the youngest squads in the Premier League.
They have been mainly looking young and British, though there has been some deviation from that policy. Villa sent scouts to the Africa Cup of Nations, where Egypt’s Mahmoud Hassan – known as Trezeguet – is the top target.
“Trezeguet is the standout name,” Dorsett adds. “Most felt he was Egypt’s best player at AFCON, and Villa are definitely interested in him, but it would be a bit of a deviation from their policy. They’ve tried to go for homegrown British players, though with Wesley they felt they had no choice; getting a young Premier League striker within their budget would have been difficult.”
What’s missing? A bit of experience. Only nine of the 28-man squad – if Engels and Luiz join – have made a Premier League appearance, and the three to have made over 50 – James Chester, Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady – are unlikely to start the season as first choice in their position. Smith himself is also making his top-flight bow.
But Villa are throwing everything they can at it. A Premier League ever-present until their relegation in 2016, Villa are acting like they’ve never been away, in the market at least. That feeling of belonging should stand them in good stead.
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