Dave Woodhall on what Villa have done so far, and what else needs doing.
We’re less than 48 hours away from the start of the Premier League season, and never, it seems, has there been less interest. Whether it’s because we’re not allowed into the grounds, or because the last one has hardly finished, or because there are still more important things to think about, there’s just not the same buzz around Saturday/Sunday/Monday/have I left any days out? as usual. It doesn’t exactly bode well for attendances when we are finally allowed back.
The first team have played a friendly with Arsenal that they won and have another with Manchester United at the weekend, which in time-honoured style they’ll almost certainly lose, although we will at least be spared a pitch invasion.
There’s also been a ‘proper’ match of sorts, when what appeared to be a youth team with a sprinkling of under-23 players went down 8-1 to a strong Sunderland side in the EFL Trophy. The result was about as meaningful as the competition, or indeed as the time when Villa beat Liverpool Schools in the League Cup. It’s what happens when youngsters play against seasoned pros.
Villa’s transfer activity has so far been a bit anti-climactic after the hopes that we’d be shopping for big names. It was probably wishful thinking that we could sell the idea of playing for a team who barely escaped relegation last season to the A-listers, and we’re settling for an upgrade on what we’ve already got in some areas and a hope that others will show an improvement on last time round. With some it’s hope rather than expectation but Marvelous Nakamba and Trezeguet, to name a couple, both to my mind showed enough during parts of last season to be worth persevering with, and both play in positions where we’re still lacking.
Naturally we’re being linked with plenty of potential signings, and equally naturally the media types who say we’re after them will then say they turned us down rather than admit they were wrong/making the whole thing up. Callum Wilson we do know didn’t fancy signing and it appears that his decision was the catalyst for getting a move on to agree terms with Brentford for Ollie Watkins.
He spent a year on loan with Weston-Super-Mare so living in Birmingham won’t be a surprise to our record signing, who has cost £28 million with another £5 million in add-ons, which I hope we’ll have to pay as soon as possible and which I hope won’t cause any “He’s not being picked because it’ll cost us another million”-type conspiracy theories every time he’s injured.
That sort of money might sound a lot for a player who’s only scored goals in the Championship, but this time last year we’d have bitten Chelsea’s hand off if they’d offered us another striker for that sort of money who’d just scored plenty at the same level. That’s football now and as I’m forever saying, as with house prices, player valuations are so hopelessly inflated that they just become a string of numbers. £28 million is the going rate for potential in the same way that £1 million gets you one room in central London. Both are ludicrous figures for what you’re actually buying but that’s the market. If Watkins can score for the Villa he’ll be a bargain. If he doesn’t then he was a waste of money, no matter how much money it was.
And with the major priority out of the way we move on to the other targets. Matty Cash was a surprise purchase, as a right-back didn’t seem a particularly pressing need, but he’s here now and best of luck to him. A second striker, winger (subject to what I said about Trezeguet), central midfielder (ditto Nakamba) and keeper are essential, and I’d also like to see another central defender, as Ezri Konza stepped up well post-restart but he’s still untried on a regular basis and you can never have too much experience in a Premier League defence. Seventy million or so ought to do it.
Which is a figure that might just about buy the left leg of England’s latest international. It’s finally Jack Grealish of Aston Villa and England, and Gareth Southgate seemed as reluctant to award that honour as he was to talk about it during a remarkable interview where he refused to answer direct questions about one of the few players who came out of the latest series of internationals with his reputation enhanced.
Time will tell whether Jack adds to his total of England cap, but it strikes me that Southgate has decided our hero is going to be some sort of poster boy for the manager’s stubbornness to prove he won’t be influenced by public opinion. We’ve seen it all before.
So that’s the start of the season. With the scheduled game against Manchester City postponed, at least Vila won’t be bottom of the league after the first round of games, and we’re also guaranteed to be out of the bottom three. I hope we can aim a bit higher for the next 38 matches.