Aston Villa's nervy summer has gotten off to an interesting start with the confirmed signing of Swiss defender Philippe Senderos and the imminent arrival, via Sky Sports, of former English international Joe Cole on a pair of free transfers.
The uncertainty surrounding the futures of owner Randy Lerner and manager Paul Lambert with the club made it seem as if fans would have to wait for activity in the transfer market, but Villa are poised to make their second signing in the span of a week.
It is no coincidence that both players were free transfers. According to the Birmingham Mail's Mat Kendrick, with Lerner still attempting to sell the club, Lambert currently has virtually no ability to spend money on new players who aren't available for free.
In signing a centre-back and an attacking midfielder, Villa have seemingly begun to address two of their lingering issues from last season. However, the arrivals of Senderos and Cole must be placed into a proper context and evaluated as what they are: low-risk, low-reward moves.
Both men, while differing in nationality and position, are similar in a number of ways that highlight the good and bad attributes they will bring to the squad.
First, Senderos and Cole are veteran players who have played in the Champions League and World Cup. Competing in the most prestigious competitions at both the club and international level is no small feat, and Villa's newest players can claim to have such experience.
Villa have often been criticized over the past few seasons for being overly reliant on young, untested players. Adding Senderos and Cole can help to balance this by reinforcing some of Villa's weaker positions with veteran leaders.
Cole, in particular, has been a standout performer in the past who has shown creativity and ability from midfield that is completely lacking in Villa's current squad. Villa have been crying out for a playmaker for over a year, and at his peak, Cole was England's very best at that position.
On the other hand, Senderos will slot into a shaky defence that was crippled by the loss of Jores Okore last season. Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark are not improving as many had hoped, and Senderos will offer a more seasoned option at the back.
That said, some of Senderos and Cole's other similarities underlie why neither player can be expected to seriously improve Aston Villa next season and why their signings are distinctly underwhelming.
Both players have had frequent struggles with injury, and this issue will only be compounded with the advancing age of both players. Consequently, neither player can be relied upon to be consistently fit to play.
Cole, 32, has not appeared in at least 30 Premier League matches in a season since 2008. Senderos, 29, has never made more than 21 league appearances in his entire career. It is clear that neither player can be expected to be a regular starter based on these statistics.
More important and worrisome is the fact that both men have appeared to decline on the pitch over the past few seasons.
Fulham were unable to escape relegation last season, yet were still content to send the underperforming Senderos on loan to Valencia during their fight to survive.
Senderos has never been a regular first-team player and has spent the majority of his career as a backup. He may have opportunities in this role for Villa, but Senderos should not be a fixture of the starting XI.
Similarly, Cole was unable to become a mainstay in a West Ham side that was not among the league's more talented outfits. Furthermore, the Hammers greatly emphasized crossing the ball, a task the Englishman seemed well-suited for.
Villa cannot rely upon Cole to be the same player he once was for Chelsea and England. He has the talent to make a difference if he can stay somewhat healthy, but once a new owner takes charge, Lambert must continue to pursue a No. 10 to create chances for Villa's predictable offence.
Overall, as long as their wages are relatively low—unlike the likes of first-team outcasts Alan Hutton and Shay Given—then Senderos and Cole are underwhelming signings that won't negatively impact the team but are very unlikely to significantly improve it either.
Without the financial backing of a committed owner, Lambert is greatly restricted in his ability to improve the squad. Senderos and Cole are understandable signings under these circumstances, but they cannot be viewed as impact players or true solutions to Aston Villa's problems.