Goodbye, Bomb Squad!


The bomb has been defused! The ‘bomb squad’ saga has been assigned to history and we now look ahead to the new season with at least unexpected ‘signings’ for which we paid absolutely nothing, apart from the £150,000 the three players collectively are reported to receive per week.  This was yesterday’s big headline (along with Gary Gardner signing a new contract, which I want to congratulate him on) and it all sounded rather too sensational to me.

I want to analyse this massive U-turn and see what the positive and negative effects of this decision might be.

First of all, the term ‘bomb squad’ needs to be defined; too many have been using that term in very different ways and it became hard to tell which players were actually a part of it. The most obvious hint that someone was a bomb squad member and surplus to requirements was being assigned a squad number in the high thirties, if he even had a squad number in the first place. Overall, a total of eight players were seemingly told that they were no longer part of Lambert’s team and should be looking for new clubs: Shay Given, Alan Hutton, Enda Stevens, Barry Bannan, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia, Darren Bent and Nathan Delfouneso.

Looking back, it is hard to tell who had to decide which players had to step away from our first team. Was it Lambert? Was is Culverhouse? Did Randy Lerner have a say? While the reason behind the internal clear-out has become very clear in recent weeks – cost cutting due to a planned sale of the club – it is still very difficult to identify the aim of the whole process. Instead of showcasing the players, whose wages Aston Villa Football Club was still responsible for,  and attracting interest from other clubs, they were “locked away”, told to train on their own or with the development squad, presumably in the hope that their names alone would spark interest from other teams. This tactic wasn’t really successful as five of the eight players listed above will still be paid by Aston Villa once the new season begins. Only Bannan and Ireland have transferred permanently while Delfouneso will be released in a month’s time.  With minimal, if any, interest in the remaining players, our restricted budget might have been used very inefficiently on their wages without anything in return. This might change now!

According to reports, our owner Lerner has urged Lambert to utilise his full squad, which officially always included the ‘bomb squad’ members. We might actually see these players return to first team action and I welcome this decision. As long as we are paying a player’s wages, he should be able to help the team. We might be better off financially if the five (or at least some of them) leave this summer but everyone knows that, for different reasons, it might be very hard to move any of them on. Until then, we should give them the chance to prove that their time at Villa is far from over and that each and every one of them has something to add to our current team, which, because of our financial situation, might not see many additions over the summer.

Shay Given, who is still a solid goalkeeper, could provide cover for Brad Guzan. This would give Jed Steer the chance to get some match time during a loan spell. Should Given decide to leave or take up a coaching role, he would free up a considerable wage and we could continue with Guzan, Steer and the Under-21 goalkeepers so no other reinforcements would be needed.

At right-back, Alan Hutton could be the defensive cover for Matt Lowton, allowing Leandro Bacuna to move further up the pitch, maybe filling the gap left by the released Marc Albrighton. The Scot has the ability to fill that role and has proven this when playing for his national team and during a loan spell at Bolton this season, where people were very content with his services. While his departure would further reduce the wage bill, we would probably need to bring in another right-back so it might not be a bad option to keep Hutton until his contract is up next summer.

Enda Stevens is in a slightly different situation than the others and his rather low wages should allow us to find him a new club during this transfer window. Otherwise, he could still help us as additional cover at the left-back-position, should we not be able to bring in a left-back over due to our quite unstable situation.

We have been calling for a creative spark all season and maybe Charles N’Zogbia might do the trick, should he regain his fitness. He has shown before that on his day he can make a positive difference to our play and if he could do that more often in the near future it might justify the money the club has invested in him. Should another club show interest in him, we could maybe even command a small fee for him, thus improving our chances of finding a creative player.

Last but not least, we have the lost striker: Darren Bent. With the right service, which, according to rumours, we are currently working on, he should be able to get a few goals,  at least until Benteke is back. In my opinion, he could form a dangerous strike partnership with Libor Kozak when the Czech returns from injury. Who knows? Maybe we’ll actually find a buyer for our record signing as Newcastle once again look interested in him. In that case, it is debatable whether a new striker would be required. With Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann in the team, this is not a priority. So, again, money would be freed up to be invested in more pressing areas. If he is staying he would be another option and should be seen us such.

While I welcome the decision to invite these players back into the team, we will have to wait and see how the players react to it. This might well depend on who forced them out of the squad in the first place and how this was done. If it was done in a professional manner, re-integrating the five players should not be particularly problematic and the whole club should benefit from this U-turn. With these words, we will hopefully be able to wave goodbye to the idea of a ‘bomb squad’. We are one team and should appear as such.


  1. Interesting article Max. The point that you and other commentators all seem to miss is the reason for setting up the bomb squad in the first place. This is not just because the manager doesn’t “fancy” them but has to also be because there are additional financial consequences for playing them. I suggest that between them they probably have clauses that include playing/bench appearance money, bonuses after a number of games and loyalty bonuses that must be paid out when they leave the club unless they haven’t played enough games. It simply must be that this is the case and so the decision to bomb them was originally as much financial as it was performance based (otherwise there would be no reason not to use them).

    Lerner’s decision to reintegrate them must therefore now represent a less expensive option than the alternative ways of strengthening the squad while looking for a buyer. And if reintegrating them is successful it will increase either their asset value for a sale or their likelihood of being sold. For example, if Newcastle do come after Bent they may not be able to bid so low if he’s now a member of the first team squad.

  2. Great article. Totally agree with what you say. Lamberts on about bringing in experience when he has a fair few experienced players at his disposal. This could work out to be a good thing, hopefully. COME ON THE VILLA!

  3. What about Dunne and Warnock?

    Also Given, Hutton, bent & N’Zog = 4 players, not 3.

    Not sure Zog was really part of the bomb squad. He played well at times for us until his injury.

    Finally, I think Lambert is being pragmatic. He needs a good start next season if he’s any chance of sticking around. No need for him to reduce the wage bill as even if he does he can’t buy so he’ll just use whatever he can.

  4. Hutton is still pretty awfull but a clean start all round is sensible

    Bent needs good crosses,,, so we need a decent winger and a creative midfielder

    Sad about Albrighton but we need better in that position

    Maybe Lambert is learning and man management takes many forms

    • David Bentley’s unemployed, handy with a cross and knows Bent. He may be slow but he’d be the right price for Randy. What with Hutton it’d be like spurs old boys.

  5. I am going to say it out loud: Hutton is nowhere near as bad as he is made out to be by the villa fans. I think the hatred for McLeish has rubbed off on him. I thought he was a terrible signing when he was signed too. But I think he would be a much better option than Lowten who is just not good enough defensively (but great going forward). I think the Villa fans need to calm down and treat Hutton like any other Villa player with our full support.

  6. Enjoyable read Max. You speak a lot of sense. A well thought out article.

    It makes a lot of sense to this individual to utilise the likes of Bent, N’Zogbia, and yes, even the much maligned Alan Hutton.

    Their experience will only help the claret and blue cause, in what sadly looks like being an extremely testing season for our beloved club.

    A fully fit and committed Charles N’Zogbia would be a huge plus, while Benty could certainly prove extremely useful with the right service, and at the very worst would be a considerably more capable back up than a Grant Holt type loan deal.

    Hutton does a job for Scotland each time he pulls on the shirt, and seems to have been something of a success while on loan at Bolton. Yes he’s never looked the part yet here, but there’s a decent enough right full back in there somewhere, and surely he couldn’t do any worse than the likes of Lowton and Bacuna who have at times really struggled in that important right back position.

    Hopefully the talented Gary Gardner can shake off the injury problems that seem to continually accompany him, while Sami Carruthers is more than capable of forcing his way into that woefully weak midfield of ours.

    It’s going to be a difficult summer and a testing 2014-15, no two ways about it, and while we can moan and groan, gripe and complain, the situation is what it is. Things aint suddenly going to change for the better.

    We have to live with it, and get on with supporting Paul Lambert and his team. We’ll come through it, AVFC always does, but there’s definitely very stormy and challenging waters ahead, and it aint going to be an easy ride.

  7. I’ve got a funny feeling we will be very dangerous next season & could be the surprise team of the season. Lambert staying is a massive boost & I’m glad he’s staying as I’m sure no one else would want to come right now. If we get Lescott & a play maker in midfield I think we’ll be the surprise package of next season! Watch out for Villa! My only concern is not giving Delph & Vlaar new contracts!

    • Totally with you Shab, we could be a surprise as some of the boys turn into men too.

      Hutton is nowhere near as bad as the Fickle Boys would have us believe. he is reckless in a challenge though, which could be he’s just not quick enough for the BPL. Delph & Vlaar will get sorted I think. the Bomb Squad plus Gardner, Okore & “Kojak” could be like new signings.

      Albrighton’s heart was lion-esque but his final ball always let him down; he’s not worth $35K per imho.

      • Really Alan Hutton nowhere near as bad as people say? He is downright awful, not once this season was there ever a point where we missed him, not once. He isn’t good enough to get into a struggling Villa team – says it all. The guy is awful.

  8. Actually you are right about Hutton, it is his total lack of judgement/recklessness which makes him a total liability. If this can be controlled then maybe he could be ok, his lack of pace is a bother though and David Bentley would be worth a short contract to see if he still has it. I would have thought Stoke may have gone in for him.

  9. There is one significant point being missed in an otherwise interesting article here. The fact that before no one was calling for these players (especially not Hutton) to be called back to the team speaks volumes. Some of them simply are not good enough. Alan Hutton is very close to being the worst full back to have ever worn the Villa jersey and would be a contender for the worst Premier League footballer. Enda Stevens is worth a shout as he never got a proper look in. But saying we do not need a striker is a bit baffling to be honest. Darren Bent hardly set the world alight with Fulham. Libor Kozak was mediocre at best if somewhat effective at times. Weimann and Gabby were hardly banging in the goals this season. I would have serious concerns on our ability to create and score from chances if we were to enter the season with the current crop. N’Zogbia could be a breath of fresh air if hes bothered and that’s a big if.

    So all in all, and wages aside some of these bomb squad and current squad just aren’t good enough or at least not up to Premier League standard.

    Some people are looking through claret and blue tinted glasses. On what basis will we be any better than this year if nothing changes? Granted we had some awful injuries but without a proper defence we cannot and will not improve . Lescott would alter this prediction big time,same as a new midfielder with Premier League experience would really help this team. However to blindly say we will take the Premier League by surprise is daft and too ultra.


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