Aston Villa’s Potential Summer Targets

(Article first featured on In Our Humble Opinion 02/07/12)

The great British summer wouldn’t be the same without a few things; burnt right forearms, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon and of course the frenzied rumour mill of transfer talk. And this summer looks set to be no different with some exciting names such as Hazard and Kagawa already set to grace the EPL next season.

Aston Villa have moved quickly to install Paul Lambert as manager following Alex McLeish’s ill-fated reign and face the tricky task of rebuilding the squad so that they don’t face another relegation battle.  Emile Heskey and Carlos Cuellar have already left, while Brett Holman has been brought in on a free from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar and Moroccan international Karim El Ahmadi has joined from Feyenoord for around £2mil.  But where else should Villa be looking for new recruits ahead of next season?

Let’s be realistic, after last season’s underwhelming performance Villa are not going to be able to attract many huge names right now.  Therefore some shrewd signings for reduced prices from the three relegated sides are worth considering.  While it’s arguable that many of these players didn’t justify their Premier League status, there are some players who could definitely improve Villa.

While he would have been an excellent addition to any Premier League side, Junior Hoilett has already left for Borussia Monchengladbach.  Nevertheless, of the remaining Blackburn players there are some possible prospects.  Steven N’Zonzi , still relatively young and with decent Premier League experience, would bring power and athleticism to a midfield that at times looked lightweight.  Martin Olsson could provide some competition at left back and Morten Gamst Pedersen’s deliveries could link up well with Bent to make him worth consideration.

Although they might not be keen on switching allegiances, Midland rivals Wolves also have some interesting possibilities.  Kevin Doyle has long been linked with a move to Villa Park and he or strike partner Steven Fletcher, who has a good record in a struggling team, would be useful additions to bolster our strike force.  Matt Jarvis will not be short of suitors and his pin point deliveries would fill the hole left by Downing last summer.

At Bolton, two names jump out at me.  Firstly, South Korean midfielder Lee Chung-Yong impressed with his tricky wing-play and creativity and reportedly he has yet to commit his future to the club.  Furthermore, Stuart Holden is another midfielder who, provided he can shake off his injury woes,  would improve Villa.


Another value for money option would be to look towards the Championship.  The likes of Swansea and Norwich proved that there is plenty of talent in the lower leagues and, given Lambert’s knowledge and track record, it is possible he could unearth some diamonds in the rough.

Top of my list would be Matt Phillips. The Blackpool forward has all the attributes to become a top player which could be honed under Lambert’s guidance.  The 21-year-old winger had a great season at Blackpool and chipped in with 11 goals yet still has the potential to further improve.

Young Palace full-back Nathaniel Clyne is another player I am a bit admirer of and, although Man Utd are said to be interested in him, there are rumours that he is currently weighing up a move to West Ham or Villa.  Hopefully the opportunity of first team football will be enough to lure the talented right back.

Other options include Huddersfield goal machine Jordan Rhodes who set League One alight last term and will be much coveted this summer.  But will a hefty price tag and a two division jump be too much?  Leeds’ winger Robert Snodgrass has performed consistently in recent years and ex-Villa boy Peter Whittingham might fancy a return to Villa Park after so much playoff heartbreak with Cardiff.  Finally, Barnsley midfielder Jacob Butterfield has been linked before and looks an exciting prospect but could be on the verge of a move to Norwich.

Inevitable speculation following Lambert’s move from Norwich will surround a number of ex-Norwich players joining up with their former boss.  Transfer-listed Grant Holt seems the obvious choice but while I wouldn’t be averse to his signing, his age, potential inflated price and relationship with Lambert would dissuade me.  However, the likes of Bradley Johnson, Anthony Pilkington and Andrew Surman may not be glamorous but Lambert certainly knows how to get the best out of them and I would trust his judgement were he to lure any of his old squad from Delia’s bosom.

As next season is likely to be one of transition and it’s anybody’s guess how much money there will be to spend – some reports optimistically suggest £20-£25mil – a big-name loan could suit both parties.  Adam Johnson would be an absolute dream.  He surely must realise that he needs regular first team football if he is to muscle his way into the England squad.  However, a move to the North East might be more tempting.

Another player linked with a loan move to Villa is French under-21 midfielder Yacine Brahimi.  A graduate from the esteemed Clairefontaine academy, the attacking midfielder/winger could bring some flair to a side desperately lacking in creativity at times.  A loan, in my opinion, would be the best option for a youngster still yet to prove himself.

Yes, the standard of Scottish football might not be the greatest but Nikita Jelavic’s move to Everton proved there is plenty of quality north of the border.  In particular, Celtic have a number of attractive prospects.  Midfielders Beram Kayal and Ki Sung-Yueng would be worth a punt, Emilio Izaguirre would provide much needed cover at fullback and Tommy Rogne could be the next Scandinavian centre back colossus.  Adam Matthews is another player I rate highly as is winger James Forrest but it might not be the best time to invest in youngsters.  Gary Hooper netted 22 times last season and might consider a move South too if he wants to break into the England squad.

Ok, this is where I allow myself to dream a little bit.  However, it’s not out of the question that, as Newcastle showed last year, with some decent scouting you don’t have to break the bank to bring in a foreign export.

In France, centre-backs Bruno Ecuele-Manga and Montpellier captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa would be bold but solid purchases for a defence desperately needing reinforcement.  For Yanga-Mbiwa there is the lure of the Champions League but if Newcastle were able to tempt Cabaye just after he’d won the league with Lille, there is no reason why we couldn’t do the same, especially given that Montpellier are still a small club with limited resources .

Given our forays into Holland, one player I would love to see is Luciano Narsingh.  He had a cracking season for Heerenveen and his 22 assists were a big reason why Bas Dost, now at Wolfsburg, scored so many goals.  An unused player at Euro 2012 with Holland, he has been linked to Fulham and PSV and would bring some much needed creativity to link attack and midfield.

Following Villarreal’s relegation the vultures will definitely be circling and, although there will be a lot of competition, Borja Valero would be a great addition to our squad. The South American aficionado in me would welcome Cristian Zapata, Mateo Musacchio and Gonzalo Rodriguez with open arms if wage demands weren’t over the top.

Ghana have a fantastic crop of players currently and there are a few who I could see at Villa. Anthony Annan is a diminutive defensive midfielder with over 50 caps for Ghana but hasn’t featured much for Schalke and would be a great addition to Villa’s midfield.   Defenders Isaac Vorsah and Samuel Inkoom would also strengthen the backline

Villa have been linked to Norwegian wonderkid Marcus Henriksen in the past and the box to box midfielder would be a decent signing without an extortionate price tag.  Despite his young age, he has already played eight times for Norway and is a lesser known gem.

On a final (and highly optimistic) note, I would love to see a South American player bring some latino flair to Villa Park.  I long for the cult heros of Juan Pablo Angel, Nobby Solano and..ehm..Ulises de la Cruz and there are a couple of players who I think, work permits permitting, would be able to adapt to the Premier League.  Velez forward Juan Manuel Martinez is set to leave Argentina and at 26 will fancy a shot at Europe.  His dribbling, array of skills and close control is something Villa have lacked since Ashley Young’s departure and I would love to see him in the claret and blue.  Spain and Valencia looks his most likely destination but fingers crossed.

Chilean midfielder Charles Aranguiz would also be a good fit for the Premiership.  The dynamic player has been at the heart of the fantastic play of Universidad de Chile and would give the Villa midfield some real quality.  He is also becoming a regular feature in the national set up, having scored in the last two World Cup qualifiers.  Rumoured to be worth around £7mil there could be a stumbling block due to Udinese owning a percentage of the player.

While I’m aware that the suggestions above are nothing but mere speculation and a fanciful wish list, I do believe that these are some of the areas that Villa should be looking at in order to strengthen and reinforce a young squad and move forward.  Under Lambert I am confident that he will be shrewd and astute in the transfer market and hopefully we’ll see some exciting new faces donning the claret and blue next season.