Darren Bent arrived at Villa Park for a medical on Monday afternoon, just a day after tabling a transfer request at Sunderland. The £18 million spent on the 27-year-old striker, and the £6 million paid for Lyon midfielder Jean Makoun, brings Aston Villa’s January spending to £24 million, in addition to the loan acquisition of Kyle Walker. Oh, to know what Martin O’Neill is thinking right about now.
These are the sorts of deals the former Villa boss would have loved to have made in the summer, had club owner Randy Lerner agreed to open the checkbook. In Bent, Makoun and Walker, current Villa manager Gerard Houllier has upgraded three positions that desperately required addressing – one in each third of the park.
Walker, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, has made a quick impact at right-back. He scored just nine minutes into his club debut and put in a solid performance against Birmingham City on Sunday. His presence is an immediate improvement over either Luke Young or Carlos Cuellar or whoever Houllier would otherwise play in the position.
Makoun will similarly boost Villa’s presence in central midfield. The Cameroon hardman has played in big matches internationally and in the Champions League and will provide his midfield partner a creative license—something the team have sorely lacked this season. He’ll also take significant pressure off Barry Bannan and allow Stiliyan Petrov the occasional rest.
Bent, meanwhile, will provide goals. Yes, £18 million is a lot to spend on him, but Villa have tallied just 24 times in 22 Premier League matches and often lack any sort of spark up front. Bent will solve that problem immediately. He notched 25 goals for the Black Cats last season and has 11 in 23 appearances so far this term. If he stays healthy, he’s good for at least 20 goals per season, and that type of player comes neither easily nor cheaply.
Houllier is also mulling the loan signing of Colorado Rapids striker Omar Cummings. The 28-year-old Jamaica international scored 14 goals for the Major League Soccer outfit in 2010 and has been training with Villa this month. He would obviously be a depth player, but that’s an area the club need to work on as well.
These are good moves by Houllier, and kudos to Lerner for spending the money. But it begs the question: why not six months earlier?
Had O’Neill been given a £20 million transfer kitty on top of the proceeds from James Milner’s transfer to Manchester City, he’d probably still be at the club. The club would be better coached than it is now, and its position would be closer to the European places than the drop zone.
Of course, Villa had just completed a third successive sixth-place season, and Lerner probably considered the performance to be good enough, both in the table and at the bank. What he failed to understand was the importance of continual investment, not only to advance the club up the standings, but also to retain the status quo.
He’s learned that now. The spectre of relegation can be a powerful motivator.
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