As Roberto Di Matteo begins preparations for his inaugural campaign as manager of Aston Villa, one of the first things he will need to contemplate is which of last year’s Villans he will allow to transform themselves into heroes.
After what can only be described as a horror show of a season, which saw Villa drop into the second division of English football, many of the squad would count themselves lucky to even be considered for another chance to pull on the famous claret and blue.
Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Charles N’Zogbia and Leandro Bacuna are expected to be the first ones out of the door at Villa Park after providing little to no application last season, as well as being among the highest earners at the club. In the case of Bacuna, the club will also not be able to hold on to a player with ‘Champions League’ ability.
This leaves Di Matteo with a choice to make.
Fortunately for the Italian, he finds himself at a club that is regarded to have one of the best academies in the country. With youth players offering hunger and desire to play for the club, he will do little wrong in choosing to integrate a number of them into his first team squad and consideration for his starting line-up.
They may lack the match experience that the more experienced members of the squad offer but they do bring a willingness to pull on the Villa shirt and give 100%, something which is lacking from almost all of the current players.
Looking through the list of youth players that the club can turn to, there are some very promising talents. With the likes of Jack Grealish, Jordan Lyden and Kevin Toner already having broken into the side and shown they are capable of performing in a struggling Premier League team, there is no reason why they should not be the base of a team that aims to get Aston Villa promoted and back to where a club of its size should be.
With Rushian Hepburn – Murphy and new youth signing Oscar Borg also performing brilliantly in the Aston Villa under-21s’ defeat to an Arsenal under-21 side fielding first teamers Santi Cazorla, they have arguably offered more against a team fielding Premier League players than many of the ‘first teamers’.
Known for his ability to put his arm around players and encourage them to be the best they can be, Di Matteo could be the man to transform the careers of these youngsters, just like he did to alleged transfer target Graham Dorrans during his spell at West Bromwich Albion.
Dorrans was in his early twenties when he almost single handedly catapulted the Baggies back into the Premier League under Di Matteo’s supervision and if the former Chelsea midfielder can take the likes of Jack Grealish under his wing the England under-21 international could deliver and mirror exactly what Dorrans did back in 2009-10.
As we know from watching from the outside, the Championship is one of the most relentless leagues in the world and the Villans will not get out of there without a mixture of youth and experience. One thing is for sure: Di Matteo knows the league and will do his utmost to make sure the club goes straight back up.
With confirmation of the sale of the club expected in the near future, now could really be the time that the fun and excitement of watching the Villa side play each weekend returns.