The constant need to judge clubs’ transfer business has the potential to make one look very foolish.
Last summer, Fulham were deemed to have ‘won the transfer window’ before a ball had been kicked. The justification for those bold predictions? Deals for Aleksandar Mitrović, Jean Michaël Seri, Alfie Mawson, Maxime Le Marchand and Fabri. That was just the initial wave, up until August 2, too.
In reality, the average punter had really only heard of the first three, but transfers are exciting, right? By the end of the window, the Cottagers had made 12 first-team additions – both permanently and on loan – with an outlay of £102million per Transfermarkt.
History tells us their recruitment ‘strategy’ – and calling it that would be very generous – did not pay off as the Cottagers were relegated miserably under former player Scott Parker.
Fast forward to this summer and Aston Villa have been every bit as active. The signing of Marvelous Nakamba from Club Brugge was the Villans’ 12th addition with their sub-total standing at £133.8million, per Transfermarkt.
Informed by the benefit of hindsight, plenty of neutrals have already written Dean Smith’s side off as ‘the new Fulham’. One suspects that 12 months ago the same observers would have opined rather differently.
There are a number of subtle differences between the way the two sides have gone about their summer business though. Both newly promoted, yes. Both making a high volume of additions, sure. Both splashing the cash, of course. But that is where the similarities end.
For a start, Villa got the bulk of their business done early. It’s a cliché which managers regularly trot out but there is merit in having the new players together at the start of pre-season to integrate them into the club, city, and country, as well as working on team shape and tactics. Fulham, for context, signed seven players in August and five on transfer deadline day.
Three signings – Anwar El Ghazi, Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause – were all heroes of last season’s promotion via the Championship play-offs with El Ghazi scoring in the Play-Off Final win over Derby County while the union of Mings and Hause yielded six straight wins through March and April as Villa marched towards the Premier League.
Four centre-halves have arrived this summer with Björn Engels and Ezri Konsa signing from Reims and Brentford respectively. But with the impressive Axel Tuanzebe returning to Manchester United – where Ole Gunnar Solskjær expects him to compete for a starting berth – and Tommy Elphick moving to Huddersfield Town, reinforcements were needed.
And, if you break down the new faces by where they will fit into Smith’s starting XI, it begins to become apparent Villa have not just done a Supermarket Sweep-style trolley dash.
Jed Steer took over from Orjan Nyland between the sticks halfway through the season but persistent links with Tom Heaton of Burnley throughout the summer suggested an upgrade was desired. Although he did not make his first Premier League start of last season until December 30, taking over from the hapless Joe Hart after a string of underwhelming displays, Heaton is an England international and will be the safe pair of hands the Villans need.
At right-back, cult hero Alan Hutton has moved onto pastures new. Egyptian wing-back Ahmed Elmohamady has a unique skill-set but his time in the top flight with Sunderland and Hull City suggests he is not a player you want to lean on over 38 games. Villa will hope, therefore, former Caen full-back Frédéric Guilbert is someone they can rely on.
On the opposite flank, Neil Taylor is another with Premier League experience from his time at Swansea City. Again, though, the hope is the Welsh international won’t have to feature too regularly with Matt Targett – ironically part of the side which got Fulham up in 2018 – signing from Southampton.
Midfield insurance policy cum Aussie hardman Mile Jedinak was another victim of promotion, as was Ireland stalwart Glenn Whelan. The signing of Douglas Luiz from Manchester City – via two loan stints at Girona while he waited for a work permit – should go some way to plugging that hole.
The Brazilian was highly thought of by the Citizens but such is the depth of talent available to Pep Guardiola his first-team chances were always scarce.
Striker Wesley Moraes is a gamble. The Brazilian arrives from Belgian side Club Brugge off the back of 27 league goals in two Jupiler League seasons for a club-record £22million. But that signing is a necessity with Tammy Abraham‘s 25 goals removed from the equation following his return to Chelsea.
If he does half as well as the last forward to move to Villa Park from Belgium, Christian Benteke, he could become a hero.
There could even be room for another striker with Scott Hogan, who ended last season on loan at another promoted side in Sheffield United, expected to depart for good. Meanwhile, Jonathan Kodjia played in an unfamiliar wide role last term but could find himself surplus to requirements thanks to the additions of Jota from rivals Birmingham City and Egyptian international Trézéguet.
“There’s still more business to be done,” Villa boss Smith told the club’s YouTube channel. “In that short amount of time we’ve got some really good work done. But we need to do a bit more.”