Panic mode reared its head again this weekend with tabloid stories that Steve Bruce will need to sell to be able to generate his own transfer funds this coming summer but maybe we should put some more trust into the kids that come through our academy.
The Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations will determine the extent of Villa’s spending. In a nutshell, a club like ourselves who dropped into the Championship last season after two previous Premier League campaigns cannot have losses which exceed £83 million, spanning those last three seasons. Villa submitted their accounts back in March, with a loss recorded of £81.3 million. This leaves the club perilously close to breaching the rules and incurring penalties.
This certainly adds huge pressure onto a promotion push for next season. A sustained period in the Championship will see that threshold for losses reduced over time. It is unlikely that Villa will generate enough money at this level to make a significant dent in these figures. A return to Premier League status will increase the threshold and of course, generate huge funds from the enormous television deal currently in place. A failure to gain promotion next season is likely to have serious consequences.
The good news is that the wage bill will almost certainly see some big reductions over this summer. Libor Kozak and Carlos Sanchez have already said their goodbyes. In addition, it is likely that the club will offload other loanees Carles Gil, Jordan Veretout and Aly Cissokho. All in all, the club should make savings of well over £150,000 a week.
The other positive side is that we should already have the vast majority of the squad in place. Significant spending over the last two transfer windows has seen a reduced need for major personnel changes this summer but there are several areas that need strengthening. This has, in turn, raised the question of whether we already have the required recruits already at the club in the shape of our kids.
The debate about our youth prospects has been bubbling away for some time now. Many supporters feel that the academy graduates are not being given a fair crack of the whip and with the club essentially in cost-cutting mode, it does seem like a logical place to source talent. Despite the clamour to play the kids, I have serious doubts over whether the majority of youngsters currently on the books are actually good enough.
Perhaps a sign to support my theory is that several youngsters were released by the club last week, including Jerell Sellars. The young forward’s departure provoked somewhat of an outcry that he was never even given a chance. He was held up as yet another example of letting potential talent simply leave the club.
The response to Sellars’ leaving actually typifies an overreaction amongst some supporters. The truth is that at twenty-one years old, Sellars had never made a first team appearance. In fact, his only taste of any league action is just eight senior appearances in a loan spell with Wycombe Wanderers. Further to that, he had struggled for game time in the under 23’s side this season, making just seven appearances and scoring once. There was no sign of improvement; the club was right to let him go.
There is a train of thought that the club has previously let slip a huge number of potential stars. Upon scoring for Preston North End against us earlier in the season, Daniel Johnson was held up as an example of ‘yet another that comes back to haunt us’ but again, Johnson had made no first team appearances. His reserve team form was good in a similar fashion to Sellars, he failed to impress on loan stints in the lower leagues.
As well as a duty to bring players through when possible, the club also has an obligation to give youngsters a chance elsewhere if it becomes apparent that they are not looking like making the grade. I think that in general, Villa tends to get things right. Yes, Johnson scored against us. That still doesn’t mean he was good enough. In many instances, a young player will need to drop down a couple of divisions in order to develop and eventually find their level.
Of course, as with any club, there are cases of ones that got away. Marc Albrighton is perhaps the most obvious recent case in point. Although now a Premier League winner and Champions League quarter-finalist, Albrighton showed no signs that he would be one day playing at that level. Despite several moments of promise, the lifelong Villa fan by his own admission notes that he spent a couple of years drifting at the club. It is easy to use Albrighton as an example of the club failing to make the most of its youth system and to bemoan that we’ve let a Premier League winner leave the club.
I would still argue that rather than Albrighton being a fantastic player, I think he found himself in a fortuitous position of being part of a Leicester team that had a winning formula at the right time. This is not a case of letting a world beater leave the club. I don’t remember being overly upset that Albrighton had left. The biggest crime was that his contract was allowed to expire and he left on a free rather than bringing in a few million via a transfer fee. That, however, is more of an indictment of how the club was being run at the time.
So what of the current crop that is left? The push for kids to be given a chance is understandable. Villa was not easy to the eye last season. Yet the link between youth being introduced and that translating into free flowing football isn’t necessarily a given.
Steve Bruce has garnered an image of a manager who does not promote the kids. I think that is slightly unfair. Andre Green, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Keinan Davis are the only ones really knocking at the door for first team action. Green has been included when fit and has really looked the part. Hepburn-Murphy could’ve had his chance but a protracted contract dispute meant that Bruce was, rightly in my opinion, insistent in not playing him until it was sorted. Injuries have restricted him since then and Davis made his first team league debut on the final day of the season against Brighton and earned plaudits for a good display. Although a killer instinct in front of goal was a potential cause for concern.
Jordan Lyden looked primed to step up after several promising appearances at the tail end of our doomed Premier League campaign. An injury-hit season has prevented his progression. Yet Lyden, in fact, represents a huge concern I have with many of our youngsters. Namely, that many of them aren’t quite so young anymore.
Gary Gardner perhaps typifies this more than any other player. Like Lyden, injuries plagued his formative career. Yet at twenty-four years old Gardner has only just found himself able to command a semi-regular place in the first team. It is clear that Gardner is not of a standard that significantly, if at all, improves the team. Injuries, of course, must be taken into consideration but for me, if a player hasn’t made inroads by the age of twenty-one, or twenty-two at an absolute push, then they aren’t likely to make it at the top level. Physical development is a factor also. Talent should be shining through at a younger age.
We have too many youth players that are not doing that. They are not impressing in their loan spells out in League One or League Two or even in the under 23’s, in which we are also only a second tier side. So how can we hope to integrate them into the first team in the Championship?
Most kids do not make it at the club and even some of those who manage to break through to the first team do not sustain their form to a high enough standard. Luke Moore is a great example of that. Our academy has a good reputation but in actual fact, it is extremely rare that we produce truly exceptional talent.
I completely agree that the kids must be given a chance but not just for the sake of it. The uproar from some supporters to inject kids into the side hoping for it to be the solution, for me, doesn’t quite add up. I actually think Bruce has done as much as he can in the time that he has been at the club to give Green, Davis and Hepburn-Murphy some first team action. Injuries and contract issues are taken into consideration. The likes of Lyden and the promising Easah Suliman, along with maybe even Jacob Bedeau, must also begin to push on next season if they are to fulfil promising youth careers.
There are certainly a few talented youngsters in an around the side. Blooding those that are capable of stepping up is obviously a must next season. Green, in particular, looks like he could make a real impression, however, despite Bruce’s limited transfer kitty, it is unlikely that the majority of reinforcements needed will be coming from the youth set up.