January is drawing to a close, and we've seen a boatload of moves from Aston Villa. Yes, we've got a couple of days left, but I don't think Villa have got anything major left up their sleeve for this transfer window. So with that in mind, the writers at 7500 to Holte have sat down to rate the moves the club has made.
We don't have a uniform system, so I can't really give you a scale for all of the answers. We're eager to see what you have to say in the comments below. I imagine that most people will be pleasantly surprised with the month that we've had, and the absolute 180 in the attitude of the players and supporters. If anything major should happen after this posts, you can expect, of course, to find further coverage here, and maybe even an update of our scores.
This week's question: The transfer window is nearing an end. Given where Villa were and where they are now, how would you rate the team's moves?
Aaron: The only real complaints I have are Davies being sold to Birmingham and Eric Lichaj not going out on loan. I've talked abut why I don't like Davies moving to Birmingham before (I think he's too promising and too young to sell to a direct rival) and my reasons for being displeased with Lichaj staying in-house are pretty obvious I think; he's at a point where he's a bit too good to be playing for the reserves but not quite good enough to feature for the senior squad. It's doubtful that Spurs are going to move Kyle Walker to Villa on a permanent basis, so getting an idea of where Lichaj is in terms of his development would be a good thing for Villa going forward and there's also the risk of stagnation if he's not playing in competitive matches. If Stephen Warnock is still an Aston Villa player on February 1st you can add him to this list, but I sincerely doubt that ends up being the case.
In terms of the players brought in, it's tough to find a lot of fault; you could nitpick (both Makoun and Bent's transfer fees were likely overpays, Bent is a very traditional English striker on a club moving in a decidedly more Continental direction, Walker is a bandaid and a bit of a tease, no new left back.) The fact is, Bent and Makoun both plugged some pretty massive holes for at least the next couple of years while Walker is a good player not making a lot of money this year that gives the club flexibility in the future. I never thought relegation was anything close to a likelihood but at this point it's almost inconceivable and I'd say a finish in the top half of the table is well within the realm of possibility. In addition there's a good chance that Villa have made the club a more attractive place to play for both players they'd like to bring in and others currently on expiring contracts. The Bent signing alone caused the supporters to do a complete 180 (or at the very least a 90) on their opinions of Houllier.
There's just not a lot to be upset about.
Gareth: All in all, I've been pleasantly surprised by what Gerard Houllier and Randy Lerner have been up to this transfer window. Near the end of Martin O'Neill's tenure, I worried that we were slowly turning into a "selling club," developing talent only to turn a profit on their players on when a bigger club came along. Buying Jean Makoun and then smashing our transfer record to pick up Darren Bent showed not only that Aston Villa has no intention of slipping into the Championship, but that the club still has aspirations to play football at the highest level.
When I come up with a grade, however, I can't go any higher than a B or a B+. That's because our defence still frightens me. Makoun, as has been mentioned, is a defensive midfielder (I believe Football Weekly called him Essien-lite.) However, we've loaned out our backup goalkeeper with no apparent replacement, sent a centre back to a relegation rival for a lot less than we spent on him, and we might be losing an international caliber left back. Granted, Stephen Warnock hasn't been good this season, and Houllier seems not to like him very much. However, with the exception of Kyle Walker, we haven't really done a lot to bolster a back line that looked sketchy as all get out until last week. So for all the positives, I can't get 100% behind our transfer moves until we can put out a back four that doesn't make me nervous.
Kirsten: I'm willing to give Villa an 8.5 on the January moves. Granted, like Gareth, I'm not too pleased with the fact that we haven't replaced Stephen Warnock, and there appears to be no peace agreement between him and Gerard Houllier. But I like the £3.5m sale of Curtis Davies. How do we expect to get any more for him when he doesn't play, and the last time he played he more or less flailed about the pitch and looked inept? It's not this Villa that created that situation, it's Villa-of-the-past, and I won't deduct points. Plus, I'm awarding extra bonus points for the fact that they got rid of Steve Sidwell, even though I now cringe any time Fulham are on TV.
So we overpaid a bit on Darren Bent. Who doesn't, in January? We may have pulled off a steal for Jean Makoun, and we had lots o'cash sitting around after Manchester City picked up a very expensive bench player. Should Bent's presence be what keeps us up, and keeps Ashley Young around, these moves might be a full on 10.
Robert: I was initially inclined to join Kirsten and Gareth in the B- to B range, as we haven't really gotten a great addition to the defense. The team really needs that, so it is a problem. But like Aaron, I now think this is a team that has no chance at being relegated. And really what that shows is that Villa got the thing they needed most: confidence.
Coming into January, the team looked absolutely lost. Players looked shaken on the field and fans were calling for Houllier's head. Some teams might have packed it in and called it a season at that point. Maybe they'd stay up, maybe they wouldn't. But Houllier and Lerner decided to make sure the team was well clear of the drop zone. If nothing else, the pre-January fan base could have forced the sacking of the manager, and that would have brought turmoil. Now look at how things are. The team is brimming with confidence, and fans seem to be ecstatic as well. Lerner helped Houllier buy some stability so he could make his own team the way he wanted. Ash looks better than he has all season, and seems to be the poster boy for the new vertebrate Villans. So for giving the team what it needed most (and a good striker!), I have to give Lerner and co. an A-.