Aston Villa’s transfer activities took a couple of unexpected twists at the end of last week. Nathan Baker leaves and Leandro Bacuna had a serious offer from Reading. Everybody knows that the first team squad is too big and will have to be trimmed and most people can agree on the usual suspects that we’d like to see move on.
The unforeseen and swift move of Baker to Bristol City came as somewhat of a surprise. While he could sometimes be unpredictable in his defending, I personally felt he was a good option to have and he performed well last season.
Yet, perhaps a more puzzling situation is that of Bacuna. A bid from Championship rivals Reading of £1.5 million was rejected and the Royals interest supposedly ended there and then. So, was turning down that bid a smart move? And does Bacuna really still have a future at Villa?
Whilst the bid wasn’t sizeable, it does suggest that Steve Bruce isn’t desperate to offload Bacuna. However, I do find it strange to turn down what is a fair bid in our current situation of needing to trim the squad of fringe players.
Bacuna’s greatest asset is his versatility. After flattering to deceive as a dead ball specialist in his first season, the ex-Groningen man has been used pretty much all over the pitch ever since his arrival. Without a doubt, it is his ability to slot into several positions and ‘do a job’ rather than his brilliance which has kept him at the club until this point.
To say that Bacuna has endured a fluctuating relationship with the supporters is perhaps an understatement. A promising first season in claret and blue won Bacuna many admirers, but this cooled somewhat during a poor second year. Yet it was in our woeful relegation year where the Curacao international’s popularity hit rock bottom.
As well as a clear downturn in form and effort (for which he shouldn’t be singled out; many others were as bad, if not worse), there was the infamous picture relaxing on a beach which was perhaps not well judged. On top of this, some ill advised comments about wanting to play Champions League football within two years really rankled with supporters.
There is nothing wrong with ambition at all. However, Bacuna would’ve done well to attract attention from a Conference League side rather than one competing in the Champions League, such were his ambling performances that season. It was a kick in the teeth to supporters having to watch such pathetic efforts week in week out yet listen to claims that he was planning a move into the big time in the near future.
Yet somehow, he has managed to win back around a large section of supporters through a much-improved attitude and commitment on the pitch throughout his appearances last season.
This is perhaps the cause of a bit of a dilemma that we have at Villa at the moment. For a few seasons, we were so devoid of any real quality, we were just crying out for a bit of passion and effort from the players. We were so bad, so starved of anything to get excited about, that we would celebrate a crunching tackle as if we’d scored a goal.
We finally got that last season from a few players who previously had underperformed massively. Alan Hutton is perhaps the best example but Bacuna is also another that falls into this category. Through an improved attitude on the pitch, Hutton especially has become a huge fan favourite, despite still not actually being that good.
Now, however, that endeavour and willingness to put the effort in around the pitch aren’t enough for me. It can’t be if we want to get where we need to be. Of course, that is still a major attribute that anyone who pulls on a Villa shirt should possess. We need players who can also boast the quality to make a difference in games.
Despite past glimpses of some promise and a few decent goals, I’m not sure that Bacuna ticks that box.
As I say, I think his versatility has been key to his stay at Villa. Yet due to the options currently available to Bruce, this attribute is made somewhat made redundant. Even with the expected departures from the squad, the positions that Bacuna usually occupies will still be well covered, especially down the right-hand side.
So, without the perks of being a utility man, what else does Bacuna really offer us? I’m really not sure
I think he is poorly disciplined, which doesn’t help things. This is confirmed by his record of sixteen yellow cards in his last forty-nine games. Let’s not forget his ‘chest bump’ with this assistant referee in last seasons fixture with Derby County which culminated in a six game ban. We can’t rely on players with that sort of temperament.
We have better options all the way down the right-hand side and also in centre midfield. We are light at left wing, but surely the money received from his sale could’ve gone towards procuring a more natural fit if there are any thoughts to utilise him there.
I don’t see the rejection of Reading’s bid as holding out for an improved offer. Bruce does seem to be an admirer and with three years still left on his contract, it seems that the twenty-five-year-old will now remain at Villa Park this season.
I’m not particularly anti-Bacuna. He’s not a terrible player. I just think in the context of accepting the bid for Nathan Baker, it seems strange to reject one for Bacuna. Surely similar reasons for selling would also apply? Namely, no guarantee of first team football and not quite being good enough for what we need.
It remains to be seen how much Bacuna features over the coming weeks but I can’t help feel that we’ve already seen the best of him in a Villa shirt and Reading’s offer was a good opportunity to cash in and also further reduce the wage bill, especially in light of our Financial Fair Play obligations.
Of course, I’ll be more than happy to be proved wrong.