Dean Smith and his coaching staff were blown away by the facilities in use at the Minnesota Vikings TCO Performance Center when on pre-season duty in 2019.
Ever since Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens took control of the club in 2018, they’ve pledged to put Aston Villa back amongst Europe’s elite.
A Championship play-off final under the Wembley arch some nine months after saving the club from financial ruin in a season involving managerial sackings, appointments and record-winning runs was the baptism of fire the NSWE wasn’t expecting having drawn up a two-year promotion plan.
Yet, Villa are moving in an upwards trajectory and at some speed after securing promotion back to the Premier League two years ago. With a short amount of time for pre-season due to a later finish to the campaign, Villa jetted off to Minnesota with no time to waste ahead of their top-flight return in the weeks to come.
Villa’s performance staff and chief executive Christian Purslow in particular were said to have been impressed by the training facilities available to NFL giants Minnesota Vikings following a visit to their Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan.
Back in Birmingham, plans for a brand new inner-city build have been ratified and a grand spanking state-of-the-art performance centre at Bodymoor Heath was unveiled by Prince William as the 2020/21 Premier League season drew to an end.
The Duke of Cambridge also delivered a speech to Smith, coaches, Villa’s squad of players, chairman Sawiris and other staff. The construction work to extend Villa’s Bodymoor Heath complex was undertaken by HB Architects, an award-winning Rugby-based firm that first upgraded Villa’s training ground back in 2007 under then-owner Randy Lerner.
The current site cost around £13million over a decade ago. HB Architects were also behind the £8.5million upgrade of the Holte Suite at Villa Park.
The brand-new performance centre mirrors much of the stunning facilities and equipment available in Minnesota. Featuring an indoor 50-metre running track, watt bikes, a balcony, a sandbox and a match analysis room, Villa have taken their performance preparation and analysis to a whole new level.
Villa’s ambitious owners were handed £14million in compensation as HS2 developments sliced straight through Villa’s training ground, and every penny has gone back into the building of a new academy centre which opened last year.
Purslow, who runs the club on a day-to-day basis on behalf of Sawiris and Edens, said in a Villa TV interview it’s an all-hands-to-the-pump effort to “make this club great again.”
He’s seen, first-hand, the level of investment Villa’s owners have pumped into the club. The brand new £14million academy site was completed in the winter with a 500-seater stand, match pitch and other facilities also built to mimic matchday at Villa Park.
Up to £6million has also been spent on extending the first-team’s headquarters with a state-of-the-art performance centre, perhaps the most eye-catching of NSWE’s investments so far.
A brand new multi-purpose gym is now home to Villa’s incredible sports science team who will endeavour to maximise player potential with all the tools and modern technologies available.
Aston Villa’s academy facilities to maximise player potentials
With plenty going on at Villa’s training base in the past couple of years, Purslow added: “A huge amount of work has been ongoing at Bodymoor.”
“I think most of our fans know because of the HS2 project we were essentially forced to rebuild large chunks of our academy operation.
“That work is complete. Our facility is one of the largest in Europe. It’s open, it’s working. We’re hosting under-23 and youth games now here at Bodymoor in our wonderful new facility.”
As outlined in planning documents regarding the new extension, the current Villa first-team gym area was deemed too small and was often overcrowded.
Last year’s planning report said: “Whilst when originally planned the size of the gym was thought to be reasonable to meet training requirements, with the passage of time the gym area within the permitted building – being an area of some 210 sq.m – has simply proved to be too small to meet the requirements of the professional squad particularly, but also the academy.
“The club finds it is regularly overcrowded and there can be difficulties in managing the facility where young academy students might be using equipment alongside adults. Although AVFC is looking to separate the academy from the professional squad in the medium term, the extension of the provision of a new larger gymnasium is now required to meet the ever growing needs of the professional squad.
“Therefore, what is proposed is an extension to the permitted training building on its south-eastern side to provide a new gym at ground floor level with equipment etc at mezzanine level and ancillary accommodation also on the mezzanine.”
Plans to build a brand new inner-city football academy near Villa Park have also been confirmed. The Premier League club lodged an application with the city council to develop a state-of-the-art complex on land off Tame Road, close to the stadium and Witton train station.
With Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground around 13 miles away from Villa Park, the facility will cater for youngsters in the surrounding catchment areas. The site is currently being used as a car park for match-day staff, but the proposal put forward to Birmingham City Council includes a full-size indoor 3G pitch, an outdoor floodlit 3G pitch, plus a purpose-built two-storey building that will house six changing rooms.
As well as being used by the club’s youth academy teams, it would also be available to the local community and for the club’s foundation work.
“I’m aware of it and it’s something the football club needed to do,” Villa’s first-team head coach, Smith commented. “We’ve got a fantastic training facility here at Bodymoor Heath but it is nearer to Tamworth than Birmingham and, to have somewhere in Birmingham, would be ideal for us.”
In HB Architects’ design statement, a spokesman said: “The club’s focus through the city academy will have two primary aims; to assist Aston Villa in identifying talented local young players (male and female), and to provide access for the local community through the Aston Villa Foundation and partnership working with local junior football clubs.
“The location of the city academy will ensure that young people in the city can access these new facilities easily within the urban area, with direct links available locally via public transport.
“By providing the facility in the shadow of the main stadium, and also in an urban location that is easily accessible on foot, cycle and by public transport, there is a greater opportunity for those young people who may not have access or the support to travel the 12km to the Bodymoor Heath training ground facility.”
Villa’s attention to detail in supplying senior and academy players with every tool necessary to maximise their potentials and improve matchday preparation might be critical, but it’s the sheer level of investment provided by NSWE that will propel the club and its players into a new age of conditioning and analysis.