After David O’Leary left Villa Park in 2006, Martin O’Neill rode into town like a knight on a stallion, ready to lead the beleaguered Premier League side out of the darkness and into the light. Three years on, it’s O’Neill that’s beleaguered, and the club’s frustrated supporters aren’t doing much better. With Aston Villa’s first preseason game barely a week away, the manager has done nothing to convince supporters that the side which finished in sixth place last season will finish in the top half this time around, nevermind improve on the 62 points.
For what it’s worth, O’Neill’s tenure at Villa will be judged by what he does in the transfer market between now and the end of August. So far, he’s done nothing other than rid himself of Stuart Taylor’s contract. That’s troubling, especially when you consider that his squad lacks depth at every position. You’d think he would have entered buying season on the front foot.
That said, it’s not too late to make a handful of meaningful signings. Every player in Villa’s price range is still available, but for how much longer is uncertain. Marcus Berg won’t be available forever. Given his impressive campaign at the UEFA Under 21 championship, it’s a wonder he hasn’t put pen to paper at one club or another.
Berg is the real deal. His seven-goal performance in Sweden last month was not a one-off. At 22, he’s relatively mature and has scored 33 goals in 56 matches over two seasons with Groningen in the Eredivisie. Incidentally, I spoke to fan from the Dutch city last week and he confirmed what I had just discovered: that Berg is a top-class finisher with fantastic upside. Groningen fans were hoping it would be a few more years until the rest of the world learned that.
At Villa, Berg would add a tricky, mobile element to the attacking line. Sure, Gabriel Agbonlahor is a similar player, but he can’t be expected to make 48 appearances year after year. John Carew and Emile Heskey, meanwhile, are either approaching or over 30 years of age.
Edison Cavani is another 22-year-old forward that Villa are thought to be tracking. He tallied 14 goals for Palermo in Serie A last season and made a scoring debut for Uruguay in February. He’s over six feet tall, which will endear him to O’Neill.
Radamel Falcao has also been linked with a move to Villa Park in recent days. Of the three young strikers mentioned in this space, he is the most promising, and will be the most difficult to lure away from his current club.
Named after Brazil legend Falcao, the River Plate forward prefers to operate on the perimeter of the penalty area, using his pace and skill on the ball to run into scoring positions. In that, he is exactly the type of player O’Neill should be after. The only concern surrounding the 23-year-old is a history of serious injuries, beginning with an ACL tear in 2005.
Midfielders Steven Defour and Alan Dzagoev remain on the transfer market as well. Both are central midfielders who specialize in linking play, something Villa will be missing after the departure of Gareth Barry. Both have been written about extensively in this space.
Now it’s time for O’Neill to do something. Everyone recognizes the holes in the squad and the lack of depth that must be addressed. And the players being linked with the club come as no surprise. Reporters have been doing the manager’s job in recent weeks, and unless that changes quickly, what began as a hopeful, optimistic tenure might come to an abrupt, disappointing end before too long.