So here we are – in the middle of the January sales and if it’s not speculation surrounding some of Dean’s former Brentford charges on their way in, it’s the question of who to bring back from loans spells. Every time I think I have the answer on what Dean is thinking, I find myself taking a step back to look at the bigger picture.
It seems somewhat stupid that a club of Aston Villa’s size should be struggling with strength and depth and yet here we are scrambling about recalling keepers, defenders and wingers, many of whom our fan base believe not to be “up to scratch” nor are they seen as long-term solutions. Such is the legacy of Steve Bruce, not enough of our starlets went out on loan last year.
What happened to the “Bright Future” – are the youngsters coming out of the Academy ready yet? If not, why not?
Eighteen league games with a resurgent Hull City has seen a born-again Tommy Elphick return to a threadbare defence. Jed Steer came back from a decent spell at Charlton and this week Andre Green had his injury ravaged spell at Portsmouth cut short. We’ve seen flashes of Dean Smith’s pressing game and you had to catch your breath at the amount of chances we were creating – up until West Brom away.
Dean Smith arrived at Villa in October inheriting the second oldest team in the division having previously managed one of the youngest. Those opening games saw Bolasie and El Ghazi gradually introduced as subs after Adomah and Kodjia had run themselves into the ground. Playing the high press and pressuring defences on the edge of their own area. Throw in the energy of McGinn and the quality of Grealish and Abraham and it was difficult not to be excited about the amount of chances created and the prospect of goals, goals and more goals.
Injuries to Adomah, Tuanzebe, Grealish, Adomah and recently Kodjia and Lansbury, has put serious pressure on Bolasie and El Ghazi to perform for 90 minutes – and something just isn’t clicking there currently. We just don’t seem to have the pace on the wings or options that Dean needs in order to play his brand of football.
This week we hear that Exeter are looking to take Callum O’Hare on loan for the rest of the season which has divided fans somewhat and it has started an is he, or isn’t he, ready for the first team debate. In the FA Cup tie against Swansea he displayed his talent in short bursts, but ultimately I came to the conclusion that he needs toughening up, much like the way in which Notts County hardened Jack for what was to come. First team football anywhere in the top four or five tiers of the professional game are poles apart from cutting it in the Under 23’s. Still only 20 O’Hare will want as many games as possible over the next 18 months to two years and he will come back a much better player for it. Assuming he pens a new deal with us of course.
Excluding Spurs’ summer pursuit of Jack Grealish it’s not since Benteke went to Liverpool that any top clubs have been remotely interested in any of our players. I chose not to include the snakes move to Man City because the release clause meant that they were getting exceptional value for money regardless. The reason why this seldom happens is because we specialise in bringing in players that are looking for their last big contract before retiring.
Enter Dean Smith and the total revamp of an ageing squad. Some called into question his credentials and what he had achieved with Brentford but let’s be honest Brentford have been a lot more savvy than us in the transfer market for many years. They have become specialists at finding a rough diamond and it’s worth wondering just how far Smith could’ve taken them if they hadn’t cashed in on Colin, Jota and Hogan. Throw into that equation Neal Maupay being touted at over £15m and Chris Mepham who seems destined to sign for Bournemouth for a similar amount and you begin to see a pattern emerging. Young and hungry players with games under their belt and that’s attractive to any buying club.
Brentford simply can’t turn down that sort of money. Indeed – not many Championship clubs can. And to potentially make returns of around £50m in transfer fees in two years is phenomenal business. Villa have shown in the summer that we needn’t be forced into selling our top talent and so how are Brentford able keep it all going? It’s because they have an extensive scouting network who are constantly on the prowl for up-and-coming talent that fit in into their philosophy. Once one goes they bank the money and bring in another – cheaper – alternative. One would argue that this could hamper their progress because it’s never helpful to have a flow of having to integrate new faces but it’s a necessity for a club of their size to even compete at this level. It’s a sustainable way of working and one in which Villa will have to turn to.
Waiting in the wings
If reports are to be believed we are set to table £1m bid for Mansfield winger CJ Hamilton. Unable to break into Sheffield United’s first team subsequent loans to Halifax and Gateshead earned Hamilton a permanent move to Mansfield. Two years and over 100 games later he has grown into an eye-catching prospect and it is here that Smith will be doing his business; players on their way up and working hard to impress. Not on their way down.
James Tarkowski, Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy and Callum Wilson all started their careers in the lower leagues, but to some we shouldn’t be looking in that direction. At 23 and three years older than both Green & O’Hare, Hamilton’s career may soon cut a similar path, having dropped down divisions to get games (if indeed O’Hare goes) he has now worked his way into the shop window.
O’Hare and Green are Villa players players and will benefit from regular games. Andre Green has four months to take his chance and then maybe he’ll get a full season on loan elsewhere. Either way they’ll improve.
Green will come back to a side void of options on the bench and so to introduce him late in a game will give us that energy boost – and could be key to a resurgence. He was only getting short bursts in a settled Portsmouth team and so he might as well do the same at Villa and then think again as to what’s best for his development at the end of the year.
The Revolution under Smith is only just beginning and whilst signing players that aren’t household names may take some getting used to it has now become a necessity. Our Academy will play a big part as well. For every Marc Albrighton there’s a Stefan Moore and so at times our patience will be tested.
Expect a busy fortnight and whatever happens in the remainder of the season, a busy summer too. There’s a rebuilding job to do.
Written by Guy Bradley