Are Aston Villa Repeating Mistakes Fulham Made Last Summer? Not at All
Norwich City and Sheffield United have been relatively quiet in the transfer window following their return to the Premier League, but the same cannot be said for play-off champions Aston Villa. This week the club have agreed a permanent deal for Tyrone Mings and brought in young centre-back Ezri Konsa, meaning they have now signed seven players so far this summer – and they aren’t finished yet.
Some outsiders have suggested Villa have been too gung-ho in the market: that they are repeating the mistakes Fulham made last summer. However, Villa’s signings have not been made out of desperation or greed, but necessity. As many as 14 first-team players left the club at the end of the season, leaving Dean Smith with a squad that contained just 17 players over the age of 21. And that includes Gary Gardner, Aaron Tshibola and Scott Hogan, who returned from loan spells with little chance of resurrecting their careers at Villa.
It is difficult to argue with any of the seven signings Villa made this summer. Anwar El Ghazi, Kortney Hause and Mings were on loan at the club last season; Jota joined as part of a swap deal, with Gardner going the other way to rivals Birmingham City; and the other three are direct replacements for players who left at the end of the season. Matt Targett is a natural left-back who will offer necessary competition to Neil Taylor following the end of Alan Hutton’s time at the club; Brazilian striker Wesley Moraes joined on a club record fee to fill the boots of last season’s top scorer Tammy Abraham; and Ezri Konsa will fill in for Axel Tuanzebe at the heart of the defence.
Anyone comparing Aston Villa’s business this summer to what Fulham did after they won the play-offs does not understand what was – and what remains – a pressing need for the club to prepare for life back in the top flight. Fulham also needed to replace a few players before they stepped up the Premier League, but they failed to do their business early and Villa are learning from their mistakes.
Fulham signed seven players last August, including five on deadline day. They were acting with a desperation that wasn’t entirely necessary, trying to force players to adapt to what was a very clear philosophy in a very short space of time. Smith has his own methods and approach, which will take time for new players to pick up, so acting fast should be seen as wise rather than trigger-happy. Bringing in players a week before Villa kick off their pre-season friendlies makes perfect sense.
The other issue being scrutinised is the transfer fees Villa are forking out to put their affairs in order before pre-season really begins. The deal for Mings has raised the most eyebrows, but not from those who witnessed the impact he had at the club last season. A fee of £20m (which could rise to as much as £26.5m) may look huge for a player who was not first-choice at Bournemouth, but there are a few reasons why Villa are investing so much in the centre-back.
Just because one coach thinks a player is unsuited to his approach does not mean he will not be a perfect fit elsewhere. Ask a Villa fan if they would rather have signed Steve Cook and they will probably laugh in your face. The same may even be true of Nathan Aké, who would cost double what Villa have spent on Mings.
It is also worth remembering what happened to Mings at Bournemouth. He was the club’s record signing when they bought him from Ipswich for £8m in 2015 (a figure that feels about £20m in today’s transfer market). Six minutes into his debut, he was taken off on a stretcher with torn anterior and medial ligaments ligaments. Mings did not return to the team for 18 months, forcing Bournemouth to sign a replacement for him. Aké, another athletic, left-footed defender, proved to be that man. The Dutchman established himself in the team and blocked any chances Mings had of returning to the side.
Villa have paid a premium for their fan favourite, but there’s a reason for that too. There is no gamble attached to the signing. Mings has proven that he is capable of carrying out Smith’s demands and that he is a real leader and unifying presence in the dressing room. He has already played a pivotal part in the team’s success on and off the pitch; not many new signings can offer that. Mings is worth a good deal more to Aston Villa than any other club – and Bournemouth knew that.
Signing Wesley from Club Brugge for £22m is a much bigger risk. He is untested in a major European league but, because he is a 22-year-old striker from Brazil, people assume “he must be good”. Villa fans know Mings is good; in fact, they strongly believe he is far better than that. While outsiders may scoff at the deal, insiders are absolutely thrilled. Villa still require a few new faces, but their transfer business so far suggests the club is finally in safe hands.
The Guardian Sport