It’s been a long road back for Aston Villa’s Brazilian striker Wesley, who after damaging his ACL last year, is on the mend with a return to first-team action insight.
The striker, who cost Villa a club record fee in June 2019, has been sidelined for a year following the cruel injury he suffered at Burnley, only four months after making his Premier League debut.
Wesley sustained cruciate ligament damage in his knee after opening the scoring in Villa’s 2-1 Premier League win at Turf Moor last January – one of the six-goal contributions he managed in 21 league appearances for Villa last term.
After being stretchered off with 20 minutes to go following a dangerous challenge by Burnley’s Ben Mee, the extent to Wesley’s injuries were unknown, but the incident would eventually spell an abrupt end to the striker’s first season at Villa Park.
The 24-year-old, who joined Villa in a then club-record £21 million deal from Club Brugge, is scheduled to take part in non-contact group training at Bodymoor Heath as he nears the end of his long recovery from a serious injury.
Villa’s plan is for Wesley to resume full-contact training around mid-January, with the hope he may then be ready for a return to action before the end of the season.
He has made steady progress over the last year and recently posted videos of himself involved in training drills at Bodymoor Heath alongside strength and conditioning coach Paddy Moore.
Smith has never revealed a firm time-frame on Wesley’s return with Villa’s medical team building up the forward’s fitness gradually after such a long stint out.
Villa’s head coach will discover where exactly Wesley is at with his progression in the coming days.
Smith confirmed: “He will join in with the group next week on a non-contact basis just to get him in amongst the players.
“We’ll have more of an idea when he starts contact training in probably two weeks. He’s getting a lot closer now which is pleasing.”
Wesley recently spoke about his injury in an interview with Villa TV.
“When I got my injury I was very sad,” he said. “For 20 days I cried every day because I knew how bad it was.
“I was having a good moment, I’d just had my first game for the national team (debut vs Argentina in November) so I was very sad at that moment. Now I can see that I can do things again, so I’m very happy.”
Wesley was given the green light to return to his homeland when the UK went into a first lockdown period back in March before returning to Birmingham earlier this summer ahead of the new season.
“It was very good for me,” added Wesley, who has two children in Brazil.
“I saw my family and they told me that I have to continue and that I’ll be very good again.
“All my family, even my kids, are in Brazil. When you have a bad moment in your life, you have to see your family to be happy.”
On his comeback in 2021, the forward said: “I have to take it one step at a time because It’s a big injury. I have to see how I feel every day in order to get back. I hope to come back and help my teammates. I want to play, score some goals and be happy.
His boss, Smith, said of his striker: “He is on track in terms of being on the grass, striking the ball and twisting and turning. He has had some manipulation of the knee to make sure the extension is getting back to normal.
“I can’t emphasise enough that the injury he had was a very significant injury. We have to make sure he is right. He is not in any group training yet and he has a lot of boxes to tick.
“It’s a box-ticking exercise now, his aerobic cap has been built but it’s withstanding different pressures on the knee.”
‘He has that panache’ – Wesley can make up for lost time at Aston Villa
Wesley was shortlisted among plenty of other forwards as Villa’s chiefs went about recruiting a whole host of new players ahead of the 2019-20 Premier League campaign. Following the loss of Tammy Abraham – who returned to parent club Chelsea after his successful loan move in aiding Villa’s promotion bid – the club had to fill a void at the top of the field.
“There was a list of about five centre forwards,” Smith said.
“But I was really attracted to Wesley from the first moment I saw him play football. He has that hunger and desire that you see quite regularly in South American players. He has that panache as well – he scores all kinds of goals.
“He can score from outside the box. He can score two-yard tap-ins – he has the lot. When I first met him, his personality matched what I thought his personality was on the pitch, too.
“I was really pleased to make him our record signing.”
Wesley’s progress – as he makes a long-awaited return to full training – will determine whether Smith feels the need to delve into the transfer market in order to bolster Villa’s attacking ranks again.
Since Ollie Watkins smashed Wesley’s record move during last summer’s transfer window, the former Brentford man has become a mainstay in Smith’s team, while Keinan Davis has struggled for game time this campaign.
After splashing £80 million on five signings during the previous window, Smith has been cautious in revealing his plans for the January window.
Recent performances from Anwar El Ghazi, Bertrand Traoré and Jacob Ramsey have proved that squad depth is no pressing issue for Smith, who will also welcome Ross Barkley and Trezeguet back into the fold in the coming weeks.
Smith said: “We believe we have good depth in the squad, with four or five players coming back from injury, which will be a big boost to us in January with the number of games we have.
“We are always looking for good value opportunities. We will never turn our noses up. But they have to be there, if we are to move.”
There’s no doubt that Wesley’s eventual return will boost Villa’s firepower and indeed the morale in the camp, as the Brazilian international returns to training ahead of a full Premier League return with some critics to silence.