No Villa manager of recent years has had the backing that Roberto Di Matteo has enjoyed this summer.
Not since the era of Martin O’Neill has a manager had access to the owner’s cheque book and been entrusted to spend significant sums as he see fits as often in a single transfer window.
In other transfer windows post-O’Neill, during the time where the previous owner’s interest in the club had dwindled, the managers were either not backed or were working within certain constraints. Last season, for instance, our manager at the time, Tim Sherwood, was able to bring in a host of players but they were not all his signings. We all know who was mainly responsible for these signings and, thankfully, this week the number one culprit, Paddy Riley, was given his marching orders as Dr. Xia’s staff overhaul was completed.
It is not only the purse-strings that have been loosened for Di Matteo. He has had the full support of Dr. Xia and the board in pointing the exit door out to those deemed not good enough, unsuitable for the league or who did not want to be at B6. Unfortunately, a couple of former England internationals did not appear to get that memo when they were reportedly given the chance to make a move.
In some cases, big losses have been accepted on sales and in others we have paid inflated prices to get the players Di Matteo wanted in this window. These were necessary evils as other clubs are well aware of what we wanted to do and that the new owner has money to spend. This is perhaps where having a vocal owner can work against us.
Vocal, eccentric or both, Dr. Xia has backed Di Matteo’s judgement by making funds available to sign players with prior experience of gaining promotion to the Premier League in the form of Elphick, Jedinak, Chester, De Laet and Adomah. Additionally, the manager and his team also seized the opportunity to sign players who stood out in the Championship last season, bringing McCormack, Kodjia and Tshibola to B6 when they became available.
Recently, in an interview with Gary Lineker, I heard Jürgen Klopp talking about how the best coaches can improve players on the training pitch and how they should not always have to rely on transfers to improve the quality of their teams. Now, until January at least, Di Matteo along with Steve Clark, with Steve Round to oversee things, can focus on the work that needs to be done at Bodymoor Heath without the distraction of the transfer window, agents and all that comes with it.
The international break will give the new players who are not representing their countries much needed time to adjust to the way that Di Matteo wants the team to play in terms of shape and philosophy and it will also give the existing players the opportunity to understand the style of the new players.
Whilst it would, of course, have been nice to have the full compliment of new players on the training pitch for two weeks, scoring with a bicycle kick for the Ivory Coast yesterday won’t have done Kodjia’s confidence any harm nor will any other good performances from those representing their countries in this period.
There will also be the opportunity to address the issue of confidence, which is something Di Matteo has talked about. Considering that only a small number of players who are battle scarred from last season are expected to be in a first choice XI, this should not be an ongoing issue. The players who have signed recently certainly should not be lacking in this department.
A more pressing issue is looking at how the players make improvements in seeing games through. Unfortunately, several times this season already the team has been Jekyll and Hyde, changing drastically between first half and second half performances. In all of the games, the team has started on the front foot and, bar the game against Rotherham United, the Villans failed to make their dominance count. In some games, the Villans could have been out of sight by half time but let the opposition into the game in the second half, resulting in disappointing draws and damaging defeats.
As I say, all of the players except Gollini have come in with Championship experience so they should be fully aware of the difficulties of playing in this league and should not need too much bedding in other than to understand the games of their team-mates.
It’s over to you, Roberto!