The season’s reached its end and the column inches need filling so there’s been plenty of talk surrounding Villa Park.
The biggest focus has, unsurprisingly, been on Benteke – thanks in part to his rather vocal agent. The Belgian has been linked to clubs from Manchester to Madrid but the claret and blue faithful hope that he will stay at Villa and press on from his successful first season in the Premier League with one eye on the World Cup. With a number of well-paid players set to be offloaded this summer, reducing the wage bill considerably in the process, there is no pressing need to sell Benteke – unless an offer in excess of the club’s transfer record fee comes in and Lambert feels well equipped for life without Big Ben striking again at B6.
Rumours are hotting up that Steve Bruce will offer Shay Given a lifeline – for a rumoured fee of £1 million, which would mean a £2.5 million loss for Villa. Given is known to be a decent bloke and it seems likely he would once again take a pay cut in favour of first team action, as he did when he joined Villa, and Hull is a possible destination, with Bruce desperate for a keeper and a strong Irish presence at the newly promoted side.
Then we have an even bigger loss to consider where Darren Bent is concerned. It seems inevitable that the number 9 will be off after a season on the sidelines. The rumours suggest starting offers of £4-6 million, with West Ham and Fulham interested, and the club holding out for a fee closer to £8 million, which makes the potential loss on Shay Given seem like small change.
Depending on which source you choose to believe, Andi Weimann is deep in contract negotiations with Villa, noseying round Newcastle or Norwich or set to sign for Sunderland. I’d like to think that Weimann would prefer to continue his long association with Villa rather than gamble on a move to any of the clubs he’s been linked with but, as we all know, it’s a funny old game.
As the services of none of Villa’s strikers have yet been secured for 2013-14, rumours that Dwight Gayle, a product of Arsenal’s youth system who currently plays for Peterborough, has caught Lambert’s eye are utterly unsurprising and he is certainly worth a gamble.
With Stephen Ireland not having featured in Lambert’s plans for a considerable length of time, it seems very likely that he too will be allowed to leave B6. But where will he go? Having been inconsistent to say the least since his glory days at Manchester City, it seems doubtful that any Premier League clubs would take a chance on Ireland – and his ego wouldn’t allow him to drop to the Championship – so a move stateside would probably be most probable – if any MLS teams are interested. Without Ireland and Bannan, the pressure has been on Ashley Westwood to offer a creative spark in the midfield but that is clearly not his forte so links to Memphis Depay, a versatile 19-year-old winger who plays for PSV Eindhoven, are welcome ones.
With another Irishman, Richard Dunne, set to leave, the defence will be crying out for an older head as Nathan Baker scored two own goals and made further errors that directly led to goals, while mistakes from Ciaran Clark allowed three goals in that a more experienced player would have stopped. While these players have promise, there is no doubting that they are error prone and since Eric Lichaj’s contract has not been renewed and Enda Stevens has gone the way of many of his countrymen at Villa Park, shoring up the defence must be a priority as even Ron Vlaar has had his moments of madness while adapting to life in the Premier League. There has been talk of a swoop for City’s Joleon Lescott, a supposed Villa fan, but a move for Crewe’s Luke Murphy, who has been monitored closely, or Aaron Cresswell of Ipswich Town, who was heavily linked with a move to Villa Park last season, seem more in keeping with Lambert’s vision than one for 30-year-old Lescott.
We all have players we would love to see in claret and blue but this isn’t fantasy football and we simply cannot bid like the big boys. Lambert’s philosophy of investing in young, hungry players from the lower leagues gives us reasons to be cheerful but many hope he has the resources to steady the ship with some investment in more experienced players.