The summer transfer window is famous for the late drama it creates, thanks in no small part to the last-minute tendencies of the Premier League's clubs. Aston Villa left it later than any other club this season, finally securing a season-long loan move for Manchester United's Tom Cleverley the day after the window had formally closed.
Cleverley's arrival puts a cap on an intriguing window for Villa, whose outstanding early results on the pitch have been all the more surprising when Villa's modest transfer budget is taken into account.
Villa's summer business has been equally defined by the players they signed, those that have left the club and the key figures Paul Lambert managed to avoid selling.
Judging the New Arrivals
With the last-minute signing of Cleverley finally confirmed, Villa's total signings for the season number six new arrivals.
Of these six, three of the players have been signed for a pittance, started every league match for Villa and can take some of the credit for the team's early success.
Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho have all had successful starts to their Villa careers. Many viewed these players as low-budget, low-impact signings upon their arrivals, but they have answered the critics by helping Villa to win seven points from a possible nine.
Senderos and Cissokho have enjoyed solid starts at the back and have added needed experience to Villa's formerly shaky defence. Richardson's role has been less defined, but the Englishman has worked hard for his new team and contributed an assist in Villa's most recent win against Hull City.
In contrast, despite arriving with little risk as a free transfer, Joe Cole has lived up to the trepidatious expectations of many by struggling with injury early, preventing him from featuring in Villa's early matches in the league.
Cole's creativity is sorely needed by Villa and his pedigree and past achievements make him a good role model for Villa's younger players. However, until he can prove his ability to remain healthy he cannot be seen as an impact player on the pitch.
Finally, there are Villa's two marquee signings of the summer. They secured Colombian World Cup star Carlos Sanchez from Elche, as well as the aforementioned loan signing of Cleverley from the Red Devils.
Sanchez is a perfect signing for Villa. He has proven himself at the highest levels of competition, was not overly priced and has a specialized set of skills as a pure shield in front of the back four. Villa's midfield has suffered from a lack of defined roles for each player, an issue helped with the signing of a pure defensive midfielder in Sanchez.
Cleverley's arrival is harder to evaluate. He plays very similarly to Ashley Westwood, suggesting that he may add more depth to Villa's squad than change their style or quality of play. Both men are volume passers that struggle with physicality and adventurousness.
However, Villa needed another central midfielder and Cleverley is still young enough to show improvement. Furthermore, by refusing to cave on his wage demands, Villa have sensibly kept themselves from overpaying for him and can see how he performs while on-loan before making a move for him permanent.
All-in-all, moving for Cleverley is worth the risk. Having spent so little on their other signings, Villa could not afford to let the window close without signing another player. He may not have been up to standard at Manchester United, but Villa Park may be a better fit for the former English international.
Unloading the Transfer Flops
The summer window also saw the departure of many players. This group was headlined by the unceremonious exit of a group of transfer flops from the Lambert era in the form of season-long loan deals.
Joe Bennett, Antonio Luna, Yacouba Sylla, Aleksandar Tonev and Nicklas Helenius all failed to impress at Villa Park and will be plying their trade elsewhere for the coming season. The club will surely be hoping that these short-term moves become permanent deals by this time next year.
Fellow flop Jordan Bowery has also secured an exit from the club, signing with Rotherham in a move that is good business for all of the concerned parties. Bowery was not good enough to make a regular impact for Villa, but he was a hard worker who turned in good performances late last season.
The departure of Marc Albrighton was one of Villa's few losses that carried some sting. Albrighton had once been the club's golden boy and was seemingly poised to be a key player for Villa for years to come. Unfortunately, things changed over the course of two seasons under Lambert.
Injury, Albrighton's wage demands and a poor relationship with the manager saw Albrighton leave the club to move to Leicester City in May. Though not without his flaws, Albrighton offered good energy, an ambition to take on defenders and he was an eager crosser of the ball.
The window also saw the end of Nathan Delfouneso's time at Villa, who like Albrighton, was once one of the team's most promising prospects. Long out of the first-team picture, Delfouneso's exit closes the door on an era of young players who never panned out for Villa in the Premier League.
In addition, Karim El Ahmadi ended his two-year spell at Villa Park when he returned to Feyenoord on deadline day. El Ahmadi never turned heads on the pitch, but he was a useful player and a regular last season, serving Villa well with his consistency and professionalism.
Overall, El Ahmadi and Albrighton were the only significant players to see the door. The signing of Cleverley and Sanchez, the emergence of Jack Grealish and the return of N'Zogbia will soften the blow, but both men helped Villa to survival last season and are not insignificant losses.
Prized Assets Retained
What was arguably more significant than the players Villa lost this summer—or even the ones they gained—was the fact that they retained three key players rumoured to be on the way out of Birmingham: Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar.
Of the three, Benteke was always the least likely to leave. The achilles injury that ruled him out of the World Cup made a swoop for the Belgian unlikely. Still, Villa fans will sleep easier now knowing that their offensive talisman and star man will be back leading the line shortly.
Although murmurs of his departure never grew out of hand, both QPR and West Ham were briefly linked to Fabian Delph, causing some fear that the newly minted English international and Villa's player of the season last year was set for a move elsewhere.
Villa's true victory came in retaining the services of Vlaar, whose stellar World Cup saw him envied by many clubs. Southampton manager Ronald Koeman was the most vocal suitor hoping to sign Villa's captain, but Lambert refused to budge and the Dutchman will be back to anchor Villa's new-look back four.
Nonetheless, Delph and Vlaar's situations are hardly fully resolved; both men are out of contract at the end of the season and risk leaving on free transfers. Therefore, it is imperative that they are signed to new deals before the window reopens in January and reignites rumours of their departures.
Ultimately, despite their modest budget, Villa managed to strengthen their squad with experience, lost few impact players from last season and they held onto their greatest assets in the form of Benteke, Delph and Vlaar.
At the start of the summer it hardly seemed as if the Holte Enders would be happy with the upcoming transfer window. But with September arriving and the deals now done, Villa's transfer business has been more positive than negative.
They may not have had the most exciting window, but Aston Villa's summer has ended fairly well and the club's fortunes seem to be trending in the right direction.
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