Villa fans have waited for the release of the squad numbers for the upcoming season, which were announced today. Given that they have more and more importance in the modern game, I want to take a closer look at the new set of numbers and see if it gives us any hints about the squad and the line-ups we should expect to see in the season ahead.
When I first had a look at the new numbers, what struck me was the lack of major changes and, to me at least, this is very positive news. Everyone who played a role last season and is still at the club has kept his number. Last year the release of the squad numbers started a big debate as it was seen as further evidence of the existence of the (now dismantled) “bomb squad,” with its members being allocated numbers between 35 and 42. However, this year no-one has been stripped of his number and this highlights how every player will be given a chance and suggests that nobody has been completely written off. The pre-season games already indicated that and, with the numbers also being a sign of how things are planned ahead, a new approach seems to be in place for the upcoming campaign. The players will no doubt be grateful to Paul Lambert.
Going hand in hand with this is the fact that Alan Hutton (21), Enda Stevens (35), Charles N’Zogbia (28) and Darren Bent (19), who were all former members of the “bomb squad”, have received new numbers to welcome them back into the squad. These players have used the pre-season games to show that they can improve our play; therefore, the process of reintegrating them into the squad can be viewed as a shrewd move.
However, three players have left the club on season-long loans and for them the release of the squad numbers signals uncertainty regarding their futures at Villa Park as their numbers have been assigned to new signings or not re-assigned. Antonio Luna’s number 14 has been given to Philippe Senderos while Yacouba Sylla’s number 18 now belongs to Kieran Richardson. In the case of Nicklas Helenius, his (former) number 9 has yet to find a new owner, which leaves room for some speculation because the iconic number 9 shirt remains unoccupied even though Darren Bent or Libor Kozak might have had an interest in snapping up the typical number of a striker. Is there a new striker on the horizon? Only time will tell but there are more urgent areas of the team that need some attention, namely central midfield and the wings.
Some of the gaps in the bigger squad might be filled by U21s and this year they have been allocated numbers right from the start. For them, it could be cause for concern that they have the higher numbers on the list but it indicates that the youngsters will be in the picture from day one and not only when things don’t go to plan or when injuries require alternative solutions. This is another positive.
As can be seen from the points above, I am very pleased with the new squad numbers and what they suggest. While a lot can happen during the course of a season (and even before the new one begins), my only issue at present is deciding whose name and number will be on the back of my shirt. Westwood 15? Cole 12? Someone else? I think I’ll need some more time to figure this one out!