French sport daily Le 10 Sport has an interview with Montpellier chairman Louis Nicollin, in which it is confirmed that the club's star midfielder Younès Belhanda will be leaving in the summer. That's not a surprise by any stretch, as Belhanda has likely gone as far as he can at the club and has been attracting a fair bit of buzz for quite some time. What is a bit of a surprise is that Nicollin named Aston Villa as one of the clubs--along with AC Milan, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray--that have lodged a bid for the services of the 23-year-old Morocco international.
While Belhanda certainly ticks the ‘youth' box one would expect of a Paul Lambert signing, that's where the fit seemingly ends. Belhanda is an established star in Ligue 1, and he's not going to be cheap to sign; Nocollin names his price at somewhere in the neighborhood of £13m, and while Belhanda isn't well established enough to demand outrageous wages, he'll probably demand double the likes of Ashley Westwood. Of course, there's a reason for that; Belhanda isn't quite in the Kevin Strootman class of exciting young players likely to move over the summer, but he's not far behind.
Belhanda is an incredibly versatile midfield player, equally capable of playing deep or behind the strikers in an attacking role. His dribbling skills and speed are world class, and his vision and creativity are miles ahead of anyone currently on Villa's roster. Belhanda would be a major addition for nearly any team in the world, but he would be the perfect addition to this Villa side. If you'd asked me before this news broke of the best signing Villa could plausibly make, his name would have been one of the first out of my mouth.
But recognizing the quality and the potential is one thing, actually completing the deal is another. While I would normally be skeptical that Villa would go after a player like Belhanda, it's somewhat hard for me to believe that the club's president (even one so notoriously loony as Nicollin) would blatantly lie to the press about such a thing. This isn't a player's agent, this is the chairman of the club. While Montpellier certainly stands to benefit from a bidding war for Belhanda's services, Villa's a pretty terrible choice of clubs to use for that purpose. Even working under the assumption that Nicollin isn't just making things up, it's hard to see Villa outmaneuvering the Milan Clubs, Atletico, or even Galatasaray.
I'd expect Villa's name to stop coming up in links to Belhanda in very short order. It's certainly not inconceivable that Paul Lambert would be interested in such a promising player, but it's impossible for me to see him try to outbid clubs with far greater resources on a high-profile signing like Belhanda. I hope I'm wrong, because I really, really love Younès Belhanda. But I'm not going to be holding my breath.