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Tom Fox's European Plan: The elephants in the room

A couple of weeks ago, new Villa CEO Tom Fox announced the goal to get the club into Europe within three years. This is the third part of a multi-part series analyzing the feasibility of the plan and what Villa will have to do in order to succeed. If you missed them, check out the first and second parts too!

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Yesterday, I discovered that Villa don’t really have to make many big signings to put a starting XI on the pitch that’s capable of making a run at the European places. But that worked under the assumption that Villa’s three most notable players — Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph, and Christian Benteke — all stick around for a couple of years to come at B6. Firstly, how likely is it that these guys stick around? And secondly, if they leave, can they be replaced?

Let’s talk about those first two guys — Vlaar and Delph — because the answers are pretty much the same. As any Villa fan knows by now, both players are out of contract in the summer and while the club has a fair chance of retaining them, there’s a decision to be made, especially if the players haven’t signed a new deal by the end of next week.

It’s a decision that can go either way — both players probably have the opportunity to move to bigger clubs (or Southampton) but they’re in a spot where they’re game-changers at an emerging Villa squad. If Paul Lambert can work his magic and convince them to stay, the club will be in a really good spot.

If he can’t? The club might still be in a decent situation, especially if the Tom Cleverley deal goes through. Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore have been a killer centre-half pairing since starting together for the first time a few weeks ago and Cleverley, joined with Ashley Westwood and Carlos Sanchez, makes up a pretty solid spine of the club; one capable of making a push for Europe.

That’s not to say that keeping Delph and Vlaar shouldn’t be a priority. But if the players don’t want to commit to the club and there are suitors willing to pay a decent fee this winter? You’ve gotta think about selling them on — the club’s played some really solid football at times this year without them.

But then there’s that Benteke guy. The real elephant in the room.

His contract isn’t up for a couple of years now but he’s also a player that’s far, far too good to still be at this slightly-to-fairly-dysfunctional club. It’s only a matter of time until the bids start coming in once again for him — and that time could really be a week from now.

Fundamentally, Christian Benteke will be at Aston Villa for as long as he wants to be. If the striker is interested in staying at the club for a while? He will. I’m not sure there’s any amount of money that would see Villa dump Benteke without the Belgian striker wanting to leave and with Villa’s wage bill getting back under control, there’s a chance that the Claret and Blues could further up his wages to keep him around moving forward.

But what if he does go? I’d like to think the club would fetch upwards of £20 million for his services (hopefully more), a sizeable amount of funds that, if spent right, could see the club launched into the upper reaches of the table.

Paul Lambert has done very, very well when actually spending, you know, really money. Okore and Vlaar have been great signings, as have Ashley Westwood and, of course, Benteke.

So if Villa sell their talisman, it’s conceivable to expect that the club could bring in two or three attacking players to help replace him — and it’s also fair to expect that Lambert would spend that money wisely and keep the squad at a point where they can still compete for the top six or seven places in the table.

It’d be nice if Vlaar, Delph, and Benteke stuck around for a few years and it’d make things a hell of a lot easier for the club. But the loss of one, two, or even three of those guys wouldn’t necessarily ruin Tom Fox’s plan.

Tomorrow we’ll be back with a look at this season’s potential European crashers, West Ham United and Southampton, and what their successes mean for Villa.