After two seasons of making a serious challenge for the Champions League, and a Carling Cup final and an FA Cup semi-final last season, you would have thought that hopes would be high for the upcoming season. Added to that, the reserves have won the Southern Premier League for three years running, and the youth side were finalists in the FA Youth Cup last season.
On the face of it, this appears to be the background of a club that is on the rise. However, there is a distinct air of pessimism amongst the fans of Aston Villa only 10 days before the start of the new Premiership season.
For the third summer running, the major transfer story involving the club concerns one of the star players departing the club. For the last two summers, the Gareth Barry saga rumbled on, with the long-running interest of Liverpool two years ago, and his eventual move to Manchester City last summer.
This summer, it is Villa’s Player of the Year, James Milner, whose future is surrounded by speculation. Manchester City, who have already splashed out over £70 million on new talent this summer, have had a £20 million offer for the midfielder turned down by Villa. If rumours are to be believed, they are willing to increase their offer to around £24 million, but the Midlands club are holding out for £30 million.
The uncertainty around his future, and the worries that if he moves, it will confirm that Villa are merely turning into a feeder club for the top teams in the division, means that the fans are slightly disheartened by the activity at the club. If he stays, there are concerns that Villa will have an unhappy player at the club.
However, it is not only the potential outgoing players that are a concern. Aston Villa remain the only Premiership side that have not brought anyone into the club during this transfer window. The major worry for the fans is the size of the squad. There has been a noticeable drop in form for the club during the later parts of the season in each of the last few years, and the lack of reinforcements thus far is hardly sending encouraging signs that this season is going to be any different.
However, is there really cause for concern? The fans of most Premiership clubs would be happy with the situation that Villa find themselves in. The starting XI contains a lot of quality players, and that has been proved by their performances over the past two years. There are a number of young players on the verge of breaking into the first team.
Despite the lack of transfers, recent years have shown that Martin O’Neill tends to carry out most of his transfer business in the closing week of the transfer window—a tactic that could prove prudent this year as teams try to prune their squads to match the new 25-man squad regulations. There may be bargains available that may not have been there earlier in the summer.
This is a team that for the majority of last season had the best defensive record in the league—better than the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. Brad Friedel in goal is still one of the best and most reliable keepers in the division, despite his age. The defensive partnership of Richard Dunne and James Collins impressed for the majority of last season; Carlos Cuellar and Stephen Warnock were solid enough on the flanks, although Cuellar appears more comfortable in his natural position in the centre.
If they can keep James Milner, they have a player who is proving himself to be one of the best central midfielders in the country. If he leaves, they will have money to find a replacement for him—Stephen Ireland is a popular name amongst the fans. They have Ashley Young and Stewart Downing on the flanks, providing the support for John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor up front.
It would be nice to see some of the younger players getting some opportunities as well. Marc Albrighton appears to be a very good player, able to run at his man and deliver some excellent balls into the box. Nathan Delfouneso, a former Golden Ball winner at the U19 European Championships, appears ready to get his chance, and could be the goalscorer that Villa have been looking forward to.
In conclusion, Villa are still in a decent position for next season. With the exception of Manchester City, the teams around them have not really strengthened that much. And there is still plenty of time left in this transfer window.
Were Sept. 1 to arrive and still no players had come through the doors at Villa Park, there may be slightly more reason for concern. However, it would be wise to wait until then before predictions of doom and gloom dampen what should be the excitement of a new season of football.