According to Mat Kendrick in the Birmingham Mail, Aston Villa were prepared to spend €10 million for a single player during the recently-closed January transfer window, but were not able to come to terms with the mystery-man. Presumably the player would have been a midfielder or defender, because had it been a striker I imagine Birmingham would have erupted in riots. So our takeaway from this is that the club management realized the need to bolster the team for the second half of the season, were willing to do so, and just fell short of achieving their goal. How should we feel about this interesting piece of news? It does, after all, exhibit a simultaneous willingness and reluctance to spend money where spending money would be helpful.
On one hand, it's fantastic to know that the club have enough money to spend that a €10 million offer was considered a realistic possibility. The Paul Lambert era at Aston Villa has been one that is marked most visibly by austerity. It is a correction of the excesses of Martin O'Neill and Alex McLeish (and the singular excess of Darren Bent under Gerrard Houllier). Villa need the stability provided by a lower wage-bill and financially responsible transfers, but as a result we've begun to think of the club as one that is cash-strapped. This proposed move definitely signals otherwise, telling us that the austerity measures are working and that there is no real concern of a crisis on the horizon. That's all good news!
On the other hand, though, €10 million could buy a number of players, and the fact that the club only tried with one is a bit worrisome. Certainly, if Paul Lambert has a player in mind who can help Villa, it makes sense to go after that player. But there is more than one player who could help this club. We saw a bit of this tunnel-vision in the publicly visible moves in January. It was rumoured early in the window that Villa wanted to bring in Wes Hoolahan. And then, throughout January, no other serious rumours really emerged. Well, now we have proof that Villa's pool of prospective incoming transfers was bigger than we thought, but not by much. It suggests a transfer policy that is at best stunted and at worst myopic.
There is something to be said for not just spending money because you have it. That's the sort of thinking that has led to players such as Alan Hutton being brought in. But in a window where Aston Villa so clearly needed an extra piece -- and in a world in which €10 million could buy quite a few such pieces -- the frugality displayed by the club is a bit worrisome. It's not something to panic about, and it's certainly not something about which we should get too angry. (There are, after all, good things to be learned from this.) It is, however, something to keep an eye on as the end of the season draws near and the summer transfer window opens. We know Lambert can look far and wide in the lower leagues for nuggets of talent. The question now becomes: can he do the same with already-proven players?