I was infuriated when I saw that we were after Philippe Senderos. Nothing personal, we needed a player in his position and he could end up doing a decent job for us. It was frustrating because it essentially confirmed claims from journalists that Lambert is limited to free and loan signings. Maybe Lerner could be forced to make a little money available at the end of the window if he hasn't been able to sell, in order to protect his investment. For the moment though, there doesn't seem to be any money available to Lambert.
It’s a tough one for Villa fans to come to terms with and there is a lot of anger doing the rounds on the Aston Villa flavoured internet. I’ve seen accusations of a lack of ambition from Lambert, that he is targeting the wrong players. I would like to see what those people would do differently in his situation. I’m far from Lambert’s biggest fan but arguments against his signings and alleged targets this window are pretty thin.
The market available to Lambert
Assuming it is true that Lambert can only target free transfers and loans, how should he approach this transfer window? We all know that Randy simply will not push the boat out on wages. My estimate would be an absolute maximum of £40,000 per week and that would only come for a high profile player.
It is very early in the window for loan signings. Most clubs don’t know for sure which players they will need to keep around and would prefer to wait until later in the window to make that assessment.
We desperately need reinforcements. We need real quality, but we probably won’t get that for the money we can offer. So at the very least we need some players with premier league experience to bolster key positions. That leaves us a limited and rapidly decreasing list of free transfer targets until the loan market really starts to get moving.
I have compiled a list of potential free transfer targets for Villa. These are the players released by premier league clubs, excluding the extremely unrealistic (like Samuel Eto'o) and unknown youngsters (like Douglas Wilson of Hull City).
If not Senderos, then who?
As you can see, there really isn’t a lot to choose from. Those that criticize the Senderos signing, well who else could we have targeted? We supposedly went after Joleon Lescott. Dragging him from £90,000 per week down to our level was always going to be impossible. We enquired about Ferdinand. He’s a little older but he earned £115,000 per week in his last contract. That was never going to happen. Who else was out there? Cuellar? Well he’s 32, has been very poor lately and we’ve been/done that. Gabbidon? At 34 he’s clearly not a strong choice. Lugano? 33 years old and absolutely shocking for West Brom. Hangeland? He’ll be 33 by the start of the season and only had his contract cancelled after we’d done the deal for Senderos. Senderos is 29, has decent Premier League and international experience, was available for free and wages not an issue. As far as I can see, Senderos was the best realistic option available at the time.
The latest rumours
Rumours have arisen today of Villa interest in Anthony Pilkington, Nicklas Bendtner and Joe Cole. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Just look at the players available within our parameters. They are the best of a bad bunch. Bendtner is the subject of many football jokes, but he is still relatively young, scores around 10 goals a season, has 24 international goals to his name and has a point to prove after being excluded by Wenger. Pilkington has been decent in the Premier League for Norwich, played with Lambert before, still relatively young, versatile, has looked good lately for Ireland and we are desperately short of attacking midfielders.
Joe Cole is now confirmed to be undergoing a medical at Villa this evening. He might have less to offer at this stage of his career, but he has vast experience racking up 600 games for club and country. Again, it's a position we desperately need to strengthen.
This is where we are
As things stand, Lambert has no option but to pursue this calibre of player. The bomb squad has been made available to him and he can gradually integrate some of our talented academy players, but that will not be enough. Promoted teams and teams around us will spend £30 million on new players. Playing the waiting game, hoping decent loans become available later in the window, is not a risk we can afford to take.
I totally understand that this is not a situation Villa fans want to face, but attacks on Lambert for lack of ambition and targeting the wrong players are not justified in this case. Depressing as it might be, this is where we are.