It says a lot that many Aston Villa fans will have spent a large part of the off-season looking in the business pages rather than the sports pages. Questions have arisen about Randy Lerner’s commitment to the club and the lack of transfer funds. The owner recently sold off controlling stake in NFL side, the Cleveland Browns. The upshot of that decision remains to be seen. Speculation suggests some of the proceeds could go towards moving Villa up the table, whilst other rumours say the money is going towards the ‘Randy Lerner Luxury Holiday Fund’ and it’s a sign he’s planning to distance himself from his sporting investments.
Plus, Paul Lambert has arrived.
Something to be positive about
Alec McLeish isn’t in charge! That’s a nice start. Plus Emile Heskey no longer counts as the cavalry! No-one was expecting Aston Villa to suddenly become the Harlem Globetrotters under the leadership of Big Eck, but having a good long flirt with relegation last season was just abysmal. Considering his Birmingham connections, his grace period was always going to be short. Paul Lambert has been snapped up after two promotions and one year of serene Premier League safety.
Darren Bent returns from injury and most of the other good players had the summer off, so in theory at least, if they are any good, they shouldn’t be able to use fatigue as an excuse.
Something to be a bit worried about
Maybe McLeish was a convenient scapegoat. What if the truth is the squad is just very over-rated? Darren Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia are all quality players when in the mood, but too often the mood strikes them as regularly as Emile Heskey found the net.
The incoming transfers thus far have been underwhelming too. Normally the capture of a Dutch international is a cause for celebration, but anyone who saw the Netherlands at Euro 2012 will treat the arrival of Ron Vlaar with cautious optimism at best. Events in Polkraine won’t make it into Shay Given’s scrapbook of career highlights and the fact that one of Villa’s star performers of last season has suffered such a dramatic dip in form is another worry
An optimistic season bet
Maybe Paul Lambert is a budding managerial messiah and all the top quality players simply had an off-season perfectly in unison. People have played much dumber bets than Villa to finish in the Top 6 at 16/1. Not much dumber mind.
A more realistic season bet
It’s baby-steps for Villa after last season’s low. It’s easily the biggest job of Lambert’s managerial career and he’ll need time to work his magic. It’s not the most spectacular of ambitions, but Villa to be Top Midlands Club at 11/8 would be represent progress given the success of Stoke and West Brom in recent seasons.
Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord)
Matthew Lowton (Sheffield United, £3m)
Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar, free)
Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord)
Packing their bags
Emile Heskey (released)
Carlos Cuellar (released, Sunderland)
James Collins (West Ham, undisclosed)