Note: This is a continuation of a series we started yesterday on realistic transfer targets Aston Villa should pursue when Robert discussed what the often-linked Wes Hoolahan could bring to the table for Paul Lambert.
For most people, John Anthony Brooks is that random dude who showed up in the second half of the United States' 2-1 World Cup victory against Ghana last month and instantly became an American hero. From the Philadelphia Inquirer dubbing the German-American centre back "Johnny Futbol" to being (temporarily) named an American hero on Wikipedia alongside such greats as Chuck Norris (and, well, a couple of presidents), Brooks' goal propelled him to the closest thing to household name status any soccer player outside of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, or Landon Donovan has in his father's native country.
But then again, as someone that both believes that Berlin is the greatest city in the world and follows its first-division club, Hertha, I tend to have a different view of Brooks. Since I started following Hertha, he's been my favourite player there and I've long been keen on his progress. He broke into the first-team during the club's promotion back to the Bundesliga at the first attempt during the 2012/13 campaign and hopes were high for the youngster as the Blau-Weißen looked to secure survival in their first year back up.
But thanks to a combination of injuries, an unfortunate tattoo, and poor play at times that should honestly be expected from a youngster, he was in-and-out of favour with Hertha manager Jos Luhukay for a majority of the season, only seeing the pitch regularly again once Hertha's drop from a European spot at the Winter Break to being a lower-mid table side 10 matches later was complete. In fact, Brooks appeared in fewer than half of the capital club's matches in 2013/14, making just 14 Bundesliga starts.
So why should Villa sign him? Well, it's more than just my love for the player but also my infatuation with the idea of Villa playing three central defenders moving forward. I mentioned the possibility of it early on after the close of the season in May and haven't stopped believing it might not be the best thing Villa could do this year. And when push comes to shove, the idea of Philippe Senderos competing with Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker for the third spot in said formation, well, doesn't really keep my heart warm and fuzzy.
Despite his World Cup heroics with the United States, Brooks probably isn't much better defensively than any of those other three guys listed at this moment. But he's only 21 and has a hell of a lot more upside than the other three. And when you consider that Villa may very well be losing Ron Vlaar before next season gets underway, a centre back pairing of Jores Okore and Brooks would perhaps leave Villa's defense in good hands moving forward for the first time in quite a while.
And while the transfer won't happen, it's not entirely 100% out of left field. Before the World Cup, Brooks was linked with five Premier League clubs, one of whom was in fact Villa. But while the story talked about Brooks' desire to continue his career in England, he's still got three years left on his contract and has lived in Berlin his entire life. He was born there and progressed through the academy at Hertha—at one point in time, he even turned down the opportunity to move to Bayern Munich's academy a few years back as a teenager.
From a tactical perspective, he'd immediately give Villa a bit more depth at centre back and if Lambert's keen on playing some version of a 3-5-2 (3-4-1-2 being my preferred one), he'd provide some cover. Brooks' potential would be second to only Jores Okore as far as Villa's defenders are concerned and every once in a while, he'll pop up in the box to score a goal like we saw when he broke Ghanian hearts a month and a half ago.
And as for Brooks himself, it's tough to gauge what manager Jos Luhukay thinks of him. Odds are he'll be starting the season as the third option at centre back in a two-man system and while I'd like to see him start, you've got to wonder if he'll be sticking around any longer without regular first-team football. And by the end of the year, Villa might be in a damn good position to offer that to him.
Brooks would be a bit of a departure from a guy like Hoolahan—the latter being a known quantity and cheap while Brooks has his ups-and-downs and would probably cost a little more—but for me, the gamble to add another player to the centre back rotation would be worth it. Plus, think of all the shirts Villa could sell in the States to bolster the bank account!