Back in May, when Randy Lerner officially put Aston Villa up for sale, there was a lot of speculation about how much money Paul Lambert would have available to make summer moves. Now that the window has officially closed, it turns out that the answer to that question didn't matter nearly as much as we thought it did. With a limited budget and his back against the wall, Lambert was able to have an excellent summer. But it was the move for Manchester United's Tom Cleverley that best exemplifies what happened over the course of the offseason.
And that's because the Cleverley move exhibits the ways in which Lambert... wait for it... cleverly manipulated his budget to get the most out of it. We had already seen the additions of Philippe Senderos and Joe Cole at next-to-nothing. Kieran Richardson came cheaply, as did Aly Cissokho. None of these players were very highly valued by other Premier League clubs, as evidenced by their prices, but they all filled roles that Aston Villa needed. In addition, they filled those roles while being improvements to many of the players that Lambert already had. Is, for instance, Senderos a world-beater? Certainly not. But he is an improvement to Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker. Lambert added starting-quality depth to the squad for practically nothing while improving the team. Of course it stinks that Senderos (who I like, mind you) is an improvement, but there's no point in mincing words here.
So the Cleverley deal, then. We saw the same shrewd wheeling and dealing from Lambert that we'd seen elsewhere all summer. Certainly, the rumoured £8 million fee seemed a bit high, but in reality that's not much for a not-too-long-ago promising English attacking midfielder. But then when Cleverley, who had almost no leverage whatsoever thanks to his poor recent past with Manchester United, decided to hold the feet of his suitors to the fire and demand absurd wages, Lambert demurred. It was only when Cleverley became available at a price that he was comfortable with that Lambert pulled the trigger.
And that's how he did everything else this summer. But it's also a sign of what he had done over the summer. Cleverley is certainly an addition that will help Villa, but he wasn't a player the team needed. Thanks to the smart purchases over the summer and the re-inclusion of the Bomb Squad, Lambert knew that he had a team that could survive as it was constructed. At the window, he was looking to improve, but he wasn't going to be held hostage.
In essence, it's what we've seen from Lambert in windows past, but this time it was applied to veteran players rather than youngsters. Villa had proven that experience was needed, so Lambert shifted his strategy without compromising on his basic transfer principles. The Cleverley deal came thanks his earlier moves as well as his transfer tactics for the year, and as a result, Villa have added a player who could be a major figure in the squad for a very reasonable price.
This whole optimism thing is strange, but it's sort of comforting to know that the moves made over the summer have laid the foundation for what should be a less worrisome year.