It’s taken three years, but we are finally back in the Premier League; the promised land. That said, the Championship was not without its merits. In terms of entertaininment, it is undoubtedly an incredibly exciting league and it was nice to be a big fish in a smaller pond.
I would strongly argue that it also helped fans reconnect with the club, those of us that stuck by the club are fiercely loyal and will no longer take Premier League status for granted. Dropping down to the Championship has allowed the club to go back to ground zero and rebuild itself, we have Villa fans actively involved at every level and this generates an atmposphere of passion and pride within the club. Winning regularly also helps fans and players create relationships, the connection with the current squad is nothing short of brilliance.
That said, we made an incredible array of mistakes over the last decade and, even in the last three years. We sacked two managers, have tried and tested a variety of recruitment strategies and almost went into administration before we found our feet under Dean Smith; the rest is now etched into the clubs history. This article means to convey a simple yet vital truth; in order to move on to bigger and better things, we cannot afford to forget the lessons we have learned.
It’s time for Villa to fly, but we must not forget how we learned to walk.
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most exciting parts about gaining promotion to the Premier League is the financial implications and the plethora of signings that we are now capable of making. I for one, will be reading every transfer rumour on Villa and instantaneously searching said players name on Youtube. It is a system that never fails to generate excitement, but is admittedly completely idiotic; Helenius was going to be the Danish Ibrahimovic and Tonev was blatently the Serbian born love-child of Messi and Ronaldo…
My point is that, as fans, there is nothing wrong with getting excited over links to exotic sounding foreign footballers who we have barely heard of and certainly never watched, but the club can’t afford to. In all honesty, the relegation season has changed my outlook on transfers entirely and I will at least try to be slightly more sceptical about signings. I don’t want us to go and sign a whole new team of players who can barely converse in the same langauge, let alone play together in the same league; it simply does not work. Fulham are the primary example of this and the result is always a lack of team spirit and togetherness. We saw the same thing when we got relegated although, admittedly it was the english wasters we signed that caused us more problems.
It is vital that Villa keep these lessons in mind and sign young, and more importantly, hungry players who can be moulded into Smith’s system. It is also essential that players we sign have the correct mentality; we have seen a fantastic team spirit evolve this season and signings like Mings and McGinn served to strengthen this. Bad eggs for big fees could literally have been on our club motto during our last summer in the Premier League. Even Di Matteo failed to shake this trend off, need I mention Ross McCormack. It is important that we do not go giddy with excitement and revert to throwing millions of pounds onto an open fire.
That said, to survive in the Premier league, we will need to sign a higher calibre of player than the signings that we would have made if we failed to achieve promotion. But that does not neccessarily mean we can’t look to the Championship. Callum Wilson is my casing issue here, he signed for Bournemouth in 2014 and scored 20 goals as they gained promotion; he is now in the England squad and has been a vital part of the Cherries recent campaigns; scoring 14 in 28 games this year. Glenn Murray is another prime example, he scored 23 goals for Brighton in their 2016/17 promotion campaign and scored 12, then 13 goals in his two Premier League campaigns.
With that in mind, it is fantastic to see us being linked to Neal Maupay; I would go as far as saying that I would rather we sign Maupay than Tammy. Whilst I do rate Abraham, I don’t think he has enough in his game to fire us to safety. He scored 25 goals for us year, so it seems bizarre to argue that he was not clinical, yet I am forced to as he could have had bucket loads more. In the Premier League you need to take almost all your chances or, as the cliché goes, you will be punished. You also need to be multi-dimensional, Tammy only scored inside the box this season and, whilst he does hold the ball up well, he does not really create chances for himself or out of nothing.
On the other hand, Neal Maupay is an absolute b****** for defenders to play against. He is fast, strong, young, technically gifted and, most importantly, has worked with Smith before. For me, this makes the 22 year old Frenchman worth every penny of the £20 million pounds that he is being touted at in multiple rumours. We have seen what he is capable of first hand, he scored 3 goals against us over 2 games this season and frightened the life out of me on both occasions. This is very much a Smith signing and would, as I hoped, fit the bill and be a move forward with past lessons very much in mind.
Another player linked to the club is Joe Lolley. A Villa fan, Lolley would certainly have supporters on his side if he made the move; he would also understand the club and be naturally passionate about playing for them. Furthermore, he knows all about stepping up suddenly and playing at a higher level. Despite being a highly rated academy player, Lolley fell out of love with the game and went to University, not seeing a career in football as a likely option. In July 2013 he was playing for his University football team, just 6 months later he was a Championship footballer. After a spell at Huddersfield, he found himself at Forest and has been immense since. This season he won their player of the season and goal of the season awards; scoring 12 and assisting 11 goals in the process. He certainly has an eye for a screamer too; as Alan Partridge would say: “he must have a foot like a traction engine:”
Whilst Lolley would not be a marquee signing, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to judge potential signings by the reaction their fanbase have to the idea of losing them. With McCormack and Lescott, they were awfull quiet. However, when McGinn was reported to be joining Villa, you could instantly see the impression he had made on Hibs fans and since joining us, he has justified this. Forest fans seem… well I’ll let you judge that: Forest fans reactions.
For the region of £10 million, this would be another astute bit of business from the Villa.
Finally, it appears Mings will be available for £15 million. Never has £15 million pounds seems such an inconsequential and easily spendable amount of money. He rustled a few by turning up in Bournemouth in a VIlla kit and his best mate has since revealed that Mings intends to join Villa. Tryone was an absolute monster since joining us and is the best central defender I’ve seen at Villa Park in years. I loved Chester and still do, you won’t find a more committed professional. However, Mings is the player we need most if we are to find success in the Premier League. We love Mings, Mings loves the Villa; sign him up!
All three of these players performed in the Championship last year, all of them are hungry and all of them can improve. It seems we have learned our lessons from previous failures and I am delighted with the links to all three of these players. Other areas that need improvement include the right wing; I like Adomah, sadly I do not fancy him in the Premier League. The same can be said about Green, albeit I’d keep the latter due to his age and potential. Similarly, we have Guilbert from France but we still need further recruitment in the full back positions if we are to be defensively strong.
So far, so good, but we have a long summer ahead and much needs to be done.
Style of Play
To succeed next year, we also need to learn lessons from the past in terms of how we play. Obviously, the Premier League is a very different animal to the Championship and we will have less of the ball, but we must not allow ourselves to be negative. Wolves averaged 53.4% possession when they got promoted, that fell to 47.4% this year, but the minor nature of that difference speaks volumes. Given that they faced teams like City, Liverpool and Tottenham, this is not too much of a decline. It is important that we still try to utilise the ball and play our system; the current way that we play maximises our players strengths and this is key. Bruceball did not work with this squad, we should not revert to it. Fortunately, Smith is once again singing from the same hymn sheet:
“We’ll come up against the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp,” he said. “People might laugh at me but I’ll still want to try and win those games.”
He further clarified this:
“I want to continue to play football in a manner where where we’re trying to win every game. That’s the way you have to be. That’s the way we’ll approach it.”Full interview: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/48436763
Smith has come under fire from fans of other clubs for his ‘arrogance’ but he is correct in his method. To stay up, we need 40 points; this is a figure which requires us to win games and thus be positive. I’d rather lose 5-2 to City than 3-0.
However, it is inevitable that we will have less time on the ball next season. Therefore, it is quintessential that we sign defenders like Mings who can use the ball but will also provide a lot of protection to Steer or whoever plays in net next season.
Remi Garde failed because he tried to play possession football for the sake of possession football with players that were not capable of playing his way. Smith will sign players who can play the way he wants them to and its vital we stick with him for the whole duration of the season. Chopping and changing managers is not sustainable, we have a Villa fan who promoted us; let him be our Eddie Howe. With Smith, we play very attractive passing football but it is effective; we pass to attack and attack to score. That must remain the same next year.
It is still very, very early days in what will undoubtedly be a long summer of transfer rumours but so far the signs are positive. From interviews with Smith, to links with hungry Championship talent, we appear to be trying to move forward by avoiding past mistakes. We, as fans, have endured the misery that those mistakes inflicted upon us; it’s high time we reaped the benefit as a fanbase and a club and used them as an experience to learn and grow from.
This is not the shameful Aston Villa that got relegated on 17 points, we are an entirely different proposition now and this needs to remain the case if we are to push on and find further success in the Premier League.
Up the Villa and thanks for reading,
By Callum Richardson.
Whilst you are here, why not listen to our podcast? The fantastic Dan Morgan and Ryan Pitcher react to Villa becoming a Premier League side: