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The failings of Aston Villa in the 2016/17 season were no mystery.
Huge transfer fees and an excessive wage budget could only take them to mid table mediocrity, in what can only be seen as a terrible campaign.
Though none particularly blame Steve Bruce for their shortcomings last season, he must this season show why he was such a coveted asset when appointed by Villa in October 2016.
Avoiding the sack is something he will be wary of given Villa’s recent history of managerial changes, as well as amending their disastrous performances of the last two seasons.
However, shrewd signings (lessons clearly being learned from their spending in the last few years) suggest things may be on the up for this new Villa side.
The 16/17 season
A failure on all accounts, this was not a year to remember for the Villa faithful. A finish of 13th and a transfer spree of £97M was frankly astonishing.
The signing of McCormack for a shade above £12M, along with his failure to make any impact at the club before being shipped out to Nottingham Forest on loan, was the pinnacle of the financial waste.
Whilst the figure is humongous for what the club actually got from it, it is only a net spend of £33M (due to outgoings such as Jores Okore to Copenhagen for £10M and Ciaran Clark to Newcastle for £5M).
However, an average wage budget over the year of £1.2M a week, let alone the transfer spend, resulted in Steve Bruce tearing his hair out when his side got to March 2017 with no hope of getting to the play offs.
The window so far suggests Steve Bruce, and the chairman/social media demagogue Dr Tony Xia, have learned from these failings and taken an approach not many could have predicted.
In the summer of 2016 the approach was clear; buy the best in this division. Kodjia, Adomah, Elphick are all players that have performed at this level and then-manager Di Matteo was not criticised for this approach.
Rather, many sides looking to bounce back up at the first attempt take this route. Newcastle signing Murphy, Ritchie, Gayle, all players proven at the Championship level, going on to win the title.
But something soon became clear to at Villa. The pressure of Villa Park was too much for these players.
Perhaps it was the awful season that saw them relegated, or the sheer history of the club, but something was making these proven Championship players fail.
So, this window Bruce has tried, and in my opinion will succeed in, rectifying the situation through experience.
Where else to start. Not just a good singing for this team at this time, but possibly the greatest Championship signing in modern times.
Over 500 appearances for Chelsea and 78 for England, captaining both. This man has one everything there is to win in the club arena and, despite his age, still averages 23 games per year from his last 3 seasons (bearing mind last season’s effective bench-warming role).
Just 3 seasons ago he played every game as Mourinho’s Chelsea romped to their first title in five years.
No doubt, his wages will be high. No doubt, he brings controversial headlines from his past. But there is also no doubt, he is one of England’s greatest ever defenders.
Whilst the pressure of Villa Park, and the club, may hinder some players in Bruce’s armoury; John Terry will not be one of them.
An odd one. Not from Villa’s perspective but Mark Hughes’.
31 appearances last season make him far from a benchwarmer, and still playing in the Ireland set up (adding to his 81 appearances) would make him a valuable asset to Stoke, or you’d of thought.
Perhaps Hughes feels his time is up at the top level; only time will tell if he’s right. But Stoke’s loss is Villa’s gain. A seasoned campaigner at both getting up and staying up,
Whelan will provide Bruce with the know-how to get out of the Championship and stay out of it once they have. Another player who won’t be phased by the challenge of Villa this coming season.
For just under a million pounds an absolute bargain for someone who is a solid defender, a threat down the right and possesses a good crossing ability.
The likes of Kodjia and Hogan will benefit from his marauding runs and whipped balls into the six yard box, while Bruce will need his consistency.
38 games per year averaged over his last 5 seasons make him dependable and 74 appearances for Egypt shows he knows how to perform under pressure.
Why Hull have let him go seems beyond reason, and for so cheap. Under Bruce he was Hull’s player of the year in their promotion year of 2012/13, and it was Bruce who brought him to the country with Sunderland in 2009/10.
Someone he knows well and will trust to do his job at right-back.
Perhaps the most risky signing of the window so far for Villa. Only averaging 13 games per year since leaving Blackburn encapsulates the enigma of Chris Samba.
No doubt talented in his prime, touted by Arsenal and Manchester United in the transfer windows of 2007/08, he has often fallen victim to the “money-grabber” tagline.
He was training with Villa during the back end of last season and has only been given a one-year deal so perhaps a gamble that he can get fit and be JT’s partner, though history would suggest otherwise.
Much needed injection of know-how
These players all solve Bruce’s 2016/17 issue of failing to see the job through. Kodjia, Hogan, Hourihane and Lansbury all have quality and youth on their side, but these signings are an injection of know-how.
Unfazed by the task ahead, you’d have thought they will walk straight into that dressing room and get things done.
But the biggest success of these signings for Bruce? A combined fee of £2.5M; in today’s money a bargain so good it is unlikely to be found anywhere else in the Championship.
Written by Dominic Mehlig
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