Despite our lacklustre end to the 20/21 EPL campaign, finishing in 11th place certainly shouldn’t have been something to be sniffed at for us Villa fans. It was Jack’s absence for the final third of the season that ultimately killed our momentum, as up until his shin injury picked up back in February prior to a 2-1 defeat to Leicester, we were in 8th spot with at least one game in hand over the teams around us.
But for some of us to be mildly disappointed at a points haul of 55 last season is emblematic of how far we’ve come in such a short space of time as a club. And by short space of time, I literally mean one season, considering how some would argue the technical gremlins of goal-line technology is what kept us up the season before.
With the new season just weeks away, I dug deep and contemplated what would be a realistic target for Villa as a club this year.
“Hey Big Spender”
Villa spent big last summer, and the owners were quick to quell any optimism that the summer of ’21 would similarly lavish. That was until out of seemingly nowhere we broke our transfer fee record yet again in June to acquire the signature of attacking midfielder Emiliano Buendia. With native Villa fans’ attention already pointed towards the Euros, one would barely have to finish a refrain of ‘it’s coming home’ before the familiar face of Ashley Young also joined the ranks.
Rumours of Emile Smith-Rowe joining the club have also dominated the column inches this month much to the combined excitement and bemusement of fans but the pursuit of another player in the Buendia mould will no doubt ring Grealish calf-sized alarm bells in the minds of all Villa fans (see below).
I hope Jack stays but if he doesn’t we’ll be okay
With an unforgettable Euro 2021 now over, the transfer Merry-Go-Round will likely be kicked into overdrive this week with Man City clamping their oily tentacles into our prized catch, Jack Grealish.
Jack’s such a crucial cog in the Villa machine that his departure this summer would be unthinkable. It goes without saying his presence is central to the club’s long term plans and whilst reports from suspect ITK accounts on Twitter suggest the ‘Brumtown Baggio’ is staying, fans won’t rest easy until the moment Jack and his Cockapoo report to Bodymoor Heath and sign on the dotted line.
But rest assured, should he leave to further his career (Villa fans wouldn’t begrudge him of that) the current owners have convinced me we’d be okay without him.
In the post-Doug Ellis years, the club’s board were usually a microcosm of the disorderly UK government that ruled over them. Dr Tony almost bankrupted us out of existence and an at first generous Randy Lerner was forced to cut down the ‘Magic Money Tree’ after a divorce left him penniless.
And now, not only are Villa not short of a few quid, as a club they actually for once have their house in order at boardroom level. But pithy satire aside, it’s a strange feeling to know there’s a capable group of lads and lasses running things behind the scenes at our beloved Villa.
‘I believe that Chukwumeka is the future’
And arguably what’s just as impressive is the work the club are doing to lay the foundations for the future. The captures of the likes of Josh Feeney and another Albion academy prospect Tim Iroegbunam this month flew under the radar of the general football zeitgeist, but these players along with the likes of Carney Chukwumeka, Louis Barry and a list of players longer than both of Emi Martinez’s arms are what will make supporting Villa so exciting for many years to come.
Champions League a Stamford Bridge too far…for now
With no European competitions to focus on and the squad that much stronger in-depth, Villa are in better shape than most to challenge in the league and the cups this season.
Leicester City’s FA Cup win and a 5th placed finish last season certainly proved it was possible to pursue multiple fronts, or ‘almost possible’ considering how they yet again threw away UCL qualification on the final day (sorry lads, we did all we could).
And as the pun in my penultimate sub-heading suggests, Champions League qualification may just be too lofty an ambition this season. Villa are getting stronger by the day, but the realist in me knows it’s difficult to see whom from City, United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester they could usurp this season. Without going into the finer details of each of these clubs’ transfer pursuits, any football fan knows Villa won’t be the only club dipping into their pockets this summer.
So what’s the verdict?
For me, Europa League qualification is what Villa fans should be hoping for this season. And it makes little difference (again, to me) whether it is done via the winning of a cup route or the finishing in the top seven route. Like last season, a good start will be crucial to our endeavours this campaign with a rather favourable opening three games against Watford, Brentford and Newcastle. Should we get off to a flyer like we did last season, there’s no reason why we couldn’t all be humming the Europa League theme tune this time next year. 😉