The First Step
After a week of unorthodox transfer dealings and a useful point against difficult opponents, Dave Woodhall looks back at events at Villa Park.
The last few days might prove the most significant since Randy Lerner took over at Villa Park. After the disappointment of the first two league games and a straightforward League Cup win over Tranmere, the impending closure of the transfer window inspired a frenzy of trading as the deadline drew ever-closer. Villa needed a left-back, midfielder and forward, and got them all, with another forward as a bonus. As to their identities, I doubt if even Paul Lambert would have guessed this time last week who his four signings would prove to be.
Villa have undoubtedly taken a gamble by touring the lower divisions and more unfashionable European leagues for new players. If they get it right they’ll have proved a few supposedly knowledgeable commentators, and Robbie Savage, wrong. They’ll have also shown that not all the young talent in football is tied up in the Premier League or on the books of agents trying to persuade clubs that a YouTube clip of their client proves he’s the next Messi.
What I particularly liked about Villa’s dealings during the week was that they didn’t hang around trying to get the price reduced if a club turned down their initial offer. For years Villa’s transfer policy appeared to centre on chasing one player at a time and hoping his club eventually matched our valuation. This reached its apogee with the saga of Benni McCarthy, who Villa hung around like a lovesick teenager for what seemed an eternity, bemoaning Celta Vigo’s refusal to drop their price because we’d raised our initial offer. Randy’s initial desire to pay whatever was needed to bring in the right player might have led to the quick and easy arrival of such targets as Ashley Young but it also gave rise to the financial problems we’ve had to contend with over the past two years. Finally, the right balance of pragmatism and flexibility seems to have been reached.
Villa enquired about Ipswich left-back Aaron Cresswell, negotiations broke down so we bought Joe Bennett from Middlesbrough. Charlton’s valuation of midfielder Dale Stephens was unrealistic so on we moved to Ashley Westwood of Crewe – and anyone who comes from that particular goldmine of talent over the years usually has a better than average chance of making it at a higher level. Genk were messing around with a fee for Christian Benteke, Villa agreed a fee for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey and Benteke was suddenly available at the right price. By this time we’d already snapped up Chesterfield striker Jordan Bowery, whose scoring record doesn’t seem too great but forwards mature at different ages and £500,000 for a 21 year old is worth the gamble.
Not all Villa’s new signings will go on to be big successes; that would be too much to ask for. But they seem to be players Paul Lambert has been tracking and who he thinks will add to the side. Money has been made available and the indications are that more will be there in January if needed. For the first time since Martin O’Neill left there seems to be a plan in place.
The season proper started on Sunday up at Newcastle. Villa drew a game they could have won, and would have lost last season. Although minor knocks and late registrations meant none of the new arrivals played any part in proceedings there was a different spirit even to the performance against Everton last Saturday. It might not end in success, it will certainly be difficult and there will be setbacks along the way, but life at Villa Park promises to be interesting once more.