The Aston Villa narrative of the past three years has become a broken record: manager Martin O’Neill makes a handful of late swoops for new, inexpensive players; the season starts brightly and fans are buoyed by a streak of positive, early results; but the squad is too small and the team tumbles in the standings after Christmas.
A gloomy synopsis? I suppose. Although I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. It’s still preseason and there’s everything to play for—both on the pitch and in the transfer market.
O’Neill, after all, waited until August 27 to make his notable signings ahead of last season. And they were terrific ones: Stephen Warnock, James Collins and Richard Dunne. Perhaps he has something similar up his sleeve again this time around.
Having said that, it remains baffling that the manager doesn’t do his business earlier, and more often. He doesn’t assert himself in the transfer market, and his squad depth suffers as a result.
If cash is an issue—and it always is—he could go after one or two free agents. Jermaine Beckford was available for nothing, but he was gobbled up by Everton in May. Martin Petrov was available on a free as well, but he went to Bolton Wanderers. Even Steven Reid—not a starter, but a decent depth player—moved from Blackburn to West Brom on a free transfer. That O’Neill wasn’t even in the conversation for these players is troubling.
So, too, is the fact that many clubs in Villa’s cash bracket have already made numerous, meaningful signings. And they’re the same clubs Villa will be up against for places in the lower top half of the table in the coming months.
Everton, in addition to Beckford, have added promising Portuguese forward Joao Silva, among others. Argentina striker Mauro Boselli was snapped up by Wigan. He scored twice in his first pre-season friendly. Mexico star Pablo Barrera went to West Ham for £4 million, joining ex-Portsmouth hitman Frederic Piquionne. Why didn’t O’Neill come in for any of them?
Where player acquisitions are concerned, O’Neill and his staff seem uncreative and at a loss for ideas. Yes, the club is restricted in what it can do after disappointing financial results in 2009. Owner Randy Lerner simply isn’t going to make a lot of money available—a troubling fact, but one that shouldn’t rule out two or three signings at a total of £10 or £12 million.
If nothing else, O’Neill’s limited budget should have forced him to consider the players available on free transfers. Slovenia captain Robert Koren is still available, but is expected to go to Blackpool. He might not be anyone’s idea of a superstar signing, but he’s a quality footballer and would have enhanced Villa’s squad depth.
And if O’Neill could have scraped together just £4 million, he could have had Mexican international Efrain Juarez, who ended up going to Celtic. Just 22-years-old and able to play anywhere on the backline as well as in midfield, he would have been an ideal addition. If the £4 million simply wasn’t available, the manager might have raised it by selling Emile Heskey, Steve Sidwell, or Nigel Reo-Coker.
Just an idea. Although funds are in short supply, there’s nothing stopping O’Neill from being creative in his transfer strategy. That is, if he has one.
Follow Jerrad Peters at http://twitter.com/peterssoccer