In the midst of yet another unwelcome international break, all things Aston Villa have taken a back seat and made way for the rather less interesting Euro 2020 qualifiers.
However, Villa supporters do have a little more of a vested interest in these games right now. Especially where England is concerned. Tyrone Mings has made his Three Lions debut against Bulgaria on Monday evening. And with England’s midfield floundering in the previous loss against the Czech Republic, the clamour for Jack Grealish to be included in the next squad is growing. Even the NZ online pokies have been calling for Grealish’s call up.
Mings’ meteoric rise, in particular, typifies what is going on at Villa right now. Despite a perhaps lower than expected points haul so far in the Premier League, the players have all, by and large, being performing to an excellent standard. And they are being recognised for it.
That will stick in the craw of many people who had been sitting back waiting for Villa’s summer spending spree to backfire and the club to capitulate. If anything, fears of the squad gelling together are already a thing of the past just a couple of months into the season.
Adding value to playing staff
It’s incredibly early days, of course. But Villa has seemingly managed to do something which hasn’t happened for years; add value to the playing staff.
Thanks in part to ludicrous release clauses put into players contracts by Tom Fox, plus several previous managers having a penchant for bringing in some absolute tripe with no resale value, the only players Villa have bought for money and made a profit on in the last five years are Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood. Yep, that’s it. At least some punters would have won some money back on the best NFL betting sites.
If I’m being fair, academy graduates Ciaran Clark, Andreas Weimann and Nathan Baker have also generated a profit. But when you consider Bodymoor Heath’s revolving door has barely stopped moving during that same period, that is still an abysmal record of just six players who have made money for the club since 2014.
Villa’s starting eleven in the last match against Norwich City already seems to be bucking that trend. You could argue that we’ll never see anywhere near the £10 million we spent on Tom Heaton ever again, and that’s a possible exception due to age.
But if the club were to receive bids right now for anyone else involved in that match, you’d have to say that all of them would command offers greater than what was originally shelled out. And many of them by a hefty margin.
The aforementioned Mings is perhaps the most satisfying of all. The initial £20 million paid to Bournemouth raised eyebrows and many Cherries supporters had a good laugh about letting go of a player who was injury prone and barely figured for them.
But that fee, even with the potential £6 million in add ons included in the deal, looks cheap in the current market. And now as an England international, if anyone wanted to prise Mings away, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that the club wouldn’t probably turn down offers of double the amount that was paid.
The other jewels in Villa’s crown right now are sitting in midfield. Credit must go to Steve Bruce here for bringing in John McGinn for just £2.5 million from Hibernian. A first-half hattrick, albeit against San Marino last weekend, has only increased the spotlight on the man they call Meatball. Villa had already slapped a £50 million price tag on the Scot this summer to apparently deter Manchester United from sniffing around. Even that is looking like an undervaluation right now.
If anything McGinn’s heroics have even overshadowed the poster boy, Jack Grealish. There are real signs that our captain is beginning to adapt nicely to the demands of Premier League football after a shaky start. An England call up is surely only a matter of time and when that happens, that will only add to his value. If Villa turned down £25 million from Tottenham Hotspur 18 months ago, then surely only a bid north of £50 million would even be considered at this point.
It’s not just our star players who are excelling. There are several players now seriously in contention for international call ups with their countries due to their form. Bjorn Engels is pushing to link up with Belgium and Anwar El Ghazi is back on the radar of an emerging Dutch national side, having already won two caps for the Oranje back in 2015. Both players were signed relatively cheaply, Engles for around £9 million and El Ghazi in the region of £8 million. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to put both in the £15-£20 million brackets now.
Similarly, both Frederic Guilbert and Marvelous Nakamba have immediately taken to Premier League football and become integral parts of the team and fan favourites. Nakamba’s £11 million fee wasn’t bank-breaking but already, after just a handful of starts looks an incredible bit of business. Whilst Guilbert has added a real cutting edge down our right flank and his fee of just £4.5 million is absolute peanuts and his current value must surely be treble what we paid.
Douglas Luiz perhaps would’ve liked to have had more of an impact since his £15 million switch from Manchester City. But he’s shown his quality with a couple of superb long-range goals which have certainly caught the eye and his continued success for the Brazil U23s show the regard he is held in and make him a sound investment. Hopefully, the buy-back clause inserted into his contract by City is of a substantial amount.
His fellow Brazilian is perhaps the most interesting player of all. £22 million current record signing Wesley has endured a couple of tough outings but has shown real striker instincts to grab 4 goals in 8 games so far. The striker is really improving with each appearance. He is winning plenty of plaudits from the pundits and if he is grabbing goals when still getting to grips with the league. It really bodes well for the future and his continued transfer fee valuation.
Conor Hourihane, again brought in by Steve Bruce, is one of those players who is unlikely to ever garner superstar status, but as I wrote last week, his importance to Villa is underestimated in my opinion. I’d like to think his original fee of just £2.5 million has probably quadrupled in the current market.
And I’ve also been really impressed with Trezeguet. Whilst he may not have massively increased his value so far, I’ve been impressed with his direct running. The Egyptian needs to work on his fitness to see out a full 90 minutes, and I think this, in turn, will see him become a real threat.
The obvious trend here is that all of these players were bought at a good age. And more importantly, they fit into a plan identified by Smith. All too often over the last decade or so players have been bought in because they’re a cheap option. Or we’ve gone to the other extreme and thrown everything at a more established player, sometimes without really even thought about how they will fit into a system.
Smith has undertaken an obvious strategy; buy young players with the potential to improve. But we’re extremely lucky to be in the position where we have been given the funds to support that by our owners. And it’s not just the owners. Christian Purslow and Jesus Pitarch must also take huge credit for the way things are shaping up and helping to identify targets and negotiate the deals and contracts.
For the first time in years, the club has identifiable assets in their playing staff. Of course, the idea is to build the team and not sell off our best players. But if the worst does happen, at least we’ll be well compensated for the losses in personnel and have a group of capable individuals able to reinvest wisely in the next batch of emerging talent.