So Let's Pretend Villa Really Were Going To Be Rich; How Would You Spend The Money?

"Please do not compare me to Zigic. It makes Mario angry!" (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Well, it's beginning to look like that whole QIA takeover of Aston Villa thing isn't going to be happening. Never say never I suppose, but February has come and gone and it's not like a lot of people really believed it in the first place, right? Still, even for the most skeptical among us it was fun daydreaming material; it's a bit like thinking about what kind of car or house you'd buy (this one and this one, for the record, but it's not like I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it or anything.) Even those that detest the influence of inexhaustible funds in football can, on a certain level, see the appeal of such a harmless exercise; to revisit the lottery analogy, I'd like to think I'd have the decency not to buy an enormous tract of private forestland to use as my own personal rally racing course, but since it's never going to happen it's kind of cool to think about on slow days at work.

That's all this is. Not an endorsement of billionaires treating their clubs like real-life games of FIFA 12 or an exercise in moaning about what Villa is rightfully entitled to or some such nonsense. It's just a bit of fun to fill up some an afternoon at a time when Villa news is either non-existent or too depressing to think too deeply about. It's also a chance for me to write about players that I don't hate, for once. Daydreaming doesn't work for me unless there's something of a hint of plausibility about it (which is odd, but so is my brain) so I'm working within that constraint. For the purposes of this exercise, Hypothetical Villa don't have unlimited money to spend (they have a lot more though!) and I'm limiting transfer targets to players I could see actually coming to Villa. Even if Villa could afford Gareth Bale or someone like that, he'd probably not be especially interested in such a move.

So with that in mind, my ideas are after the jump.

Management And Football Operations

As CEO of Fantasyland Aston Villa, my first order of business would be to hire Andre Villas-Boas as manager. He's between jobs at the moment (as you might have heard) and the pressure to keep the veterans happy, blood in youngsters, perform well in the Champions League, finish in the top four and rebuild the spine of the squad simultaneously would not be an issue here. AVB might not have been the right man for the job given the specifics of Chelsea's situation, but for this kind of project there might not be a better manager alive to put in charge.

The next step would be to pour lots and lots of money into the scouting department, both in terms of youth players and undiscovered gems playing at the senior level elsewhere. One of the biggest reasons Villa have underachieved relative to investment since Randy Lerner took over has been an inability to find talented players on the cheap; think Bryan Ruiz would look pretty decent in a Villa shirt? Well, Fulham got him for £10.6 million. Radosav Petrović looks like he's going to be a very nice player for Blackburn and Rovers snatched him up for somewhere in the neighborhood of £2 million. And it's not as though Twente or FK Partizan are completely undiscovered clubs, or that Fulham and Blackburn pour untold millions into scouting; even a slight upgrade in that area would do wonders for Villa.

Finally, there's the Director of Football. The DOF is not especially common in the English game, but it's becoming more widely used and for good reason; managers have enough to worry about with the business of managing. That's not to say they'll never have a say in personnel decisions, but having a person whose job it is to oversee scouting, transfer negotiations and the like has tremendous advantages. I'm not going to name names, because I don't know nearly enough about what makes for an excellent DOF to even pretend, but using this model is something that more Premier League clubs ought to be doing.

For Sale, Best Offer Takes It

At a certain point, it's important to recognize that it's more important to allow a player to move on, for whatever reason, than to stubbornly hold out for what you think that player's maximum value might be. The players below aren't necessarily bad (though some certainly are!) they just wouldn't necessarily be good fits with new-look Aston Villa. (Also: yes, I'm aware Emile Heskey isn't on this list. His contract is up after this season. Hooray!)

Sell For The Right Price

Obviously, that's true of any player. If Manchester City offered Barcelone £1,000,000,000 for Lionel Messi, they'd probably take it. In this case however, these are players Rich Villa should be looking to move but not at a cut-rate price. Any good team could use these guys, but in this instance the transfer fees brought in could probably be put to better use.

  • Darren Bent
    • There's a market for Darren Bent, and it's likely quite robust; expecting to get back the £24 million Villa paid for him is probably unrealistic, but something in the neighborhood of £12-£16 million seems about right. Darren Bent made tons of sense at the time, but he makes less sense now and would probably make even less sense in a world where Villa had tens of millions of dollars to spend on more versatile players.
  • Stephen Ireland
    • Ireland has shown enough quality this season that there's no point in selling low, and he could be a very useful rotational player on a good team. But if another club is sufficiently convinced by what they've seen to offer Villa somewhere in the £6 million range for him, that's too good a deal to turn down.
  • Shay Given
    • Given has turned out very well so far for Villa; a cut-rate signing of a legitimate world-class keeper on reasonable wages is a very nice deal for a club with defensive problems looking to keep costs low. But at his age, a club with a bit more financial flexibility might do well to look elsewhere.
  • Marc Albrighton
    • I do not expect this one to go over very well. I like Marc Albrighton, quite a bit in fact. He's an exciting player to watch, and it's impossible to deny his passion, work-rate, speed and the quality of his delivery. But that's about all he brings to the table; he's a non-factor defensively, he's not much of a finisher, he makes some very questionable decisions in possession and he has a tendency to disappear. He's not a starter on a Champions League quality English team. There are a lot of clubs that could use a player like Marc Albrighton and would be willing to pay good money for the opportunity; there's certainly no harm in keeping him around as a rotational player (especially considering his age) but he there's a good chance he'd bring in a decent haul for a transfer fee, and letting him go certainly wouldn't cripple the team.

Transfer Wishlist

These are the players that made me want to write this post in the first place. Before you go rolling your eyes, yes; I assure you I have seen all of them play numerous times. These aren't (just) guys I found on Football Manager. You'll also notice that they're all relatively young, and that's no accident; when you're building from the ground up, it makes a whole lot of sense to put together a core that's going hit their prime years at roughly the same time. That's not to say veteran players have no place within the equation, but ideally they're supplementary players, guys that help put you over the top rather than key pieces in the ascension. And full disclosure: those guys just aren't all that interesting to me in the context of a post that's an exercise in pure fantasy.

  • Jan Vertonghen (CB-Ajax)
    • Vertonghen is my absolute favorite kind of defender, and if he's not yours then what the hell is wrong with you? In addition to positional awareness and tactical knowledge that seem well beyond his years, he's also got an irresistible mix of size, strength, quickness and speed (and not just in the "fast for a center-half" sense, dude is pretty damned fast.) He's also not too shabby when he decides he wants to get forward, and though that's not the number-one thing you're looking for in a defender it's nonetheless an under-appreciated asset for a center back to have. This would likely be a pretty tough one to pull off, but Vertonghen is the kind of player that can anchor an elite defense for years. Ajax is probably going to fund their scouting department for another 15 years with the money they get for Vertonghen, but oh man it would be so worth it.
  • Douglas (CB-FC Twente)
    • The perfect counterpart to Vertonghen, Douglas is a more traditional "warrior" type centerback in the mold we're more familiar with at Aston Villa. That's not an inherently bad thing though, and Douglas is quite good at it. He's seen his stock fall due to some...unpleasantness involving match officials last season, but I'm sure we could buy him anger management counseling or something.
  • Domenico Criscito (LB-FC Zenit)
    • How in God's name is the starting left back on the Italian national team playing in Russia? I mean, no offense to Russia; it's certainly not a bad league at all and Zenit are an excellent, excellent team. But goodness me, Criscito is just far too good not to be playing at a competitive club in one of Europe's big three leagues.
  • Christian Träsch (RB-VfL Wolfsburg)
    • Träsch plays a whole lot of defensive midfield for Wolfsburg, but he's impressed me most of all as a right back. He's not a fullback in the same mold as Cruscito, who likes to get forward and join the attack; rather, he's perfectly happy to sit back and bust up counter attacks, vital in a system that makes use of an attacking fullback on the opposite side. But Träsch is far from incompetent in the attack; he's a decent crosser, and as a player who's spent his share of time in midfield he's got good vision and excellent passing skills. Not the flashiest player in the world, but a massive upgrade over the likes of Alan Hutton.
  • João Moutinho (CM-Porto)
    • Okay, this one is a stretch. Not quite a "BUY HULK"-level stretch, but a stretch nonetheless. Moutinho is likely destined to either stay at Porto and become a genuine club legend or leave for one of Europe's biggest names sometime in the near future. But he's everything you could ever ask for as the engine of a team, blessed with tremendous vision, an excellent motor, and solid tactical and defensive ability. You could put Moutinho on this current Villa team and they'd probably push for Europe. (I'm not even sure if I'm being hyperbolic or not; I love him that much.)
  • Anthony Mounier (LW-OGC Nice)
    • Someone has got to rescue poor Anthony Mounier from Nice. Why not us? (I'm serious, and Villa could probably afford him now, especially if Nice go down. Which they probably well, because they're really, really bad.)
  • Mario Mandžukić (ST-VfL Wolfsburg)
    • If Moutinho was a stretch, Mandžukić is a stretch in the opposite direction. It's probably largely a remnant of my adoration for John Carew, but I just absolutely love this man. There's something other than sentimentality going on here though; the big fella' can play. Where Carew's game consisted largely of "be tall, fast and a decent shot" Mandžukić is all of that and additionally far cleverer than Big John could have ever dreamed. A man of that size and (quite frankly) awkward appearance has no right to make some of the passes that he does. He's just a joy to watch, and in the right system he could be an out-and-out terror.

That team probably wouldn't put up much of a fight for the Premier League crown in season one, but it would be a very solid foundation from which to build and would likely make a decent push for the Champions League. If things go well in season one of the new era and Villa is an attractive destination for true top-flight transfer targets, a truly special player could easily put them into immediate title contention. What's more, they'd be an absolute joy to watch.

Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments, even if it's just to tell me that I'm nuts form thinking Player X is good enough to be a star in the Premier League. If you come up with some suggestions of your own, perhaps you'll even momentarily forget Alex McLeish is our manager and Alan Hutton our starting right back!


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