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A blueprint for rebuilding Aston Villa

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With the departure of Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph, Tim Sherwood's first transfer window and the appointment of the club's first ever Sporting Director, Aston Villa is at a turning point that could define its future as a Premier Leauge side.

There is a chance to rebuild not just the side, but the club as a whole in such as a way as to avoid the catastrophic failures of the past four years and build a platform to challenge for silverware.

Re-investing the money

This is a huge transfer season for the club. The direct cause of finishing 16th, 15th, 15th and 17th in the last four seasons was the failure to effectively reinvest the money from selling Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing. The same cannot happen with the money from the Benteke and Delph sales.

The signings of Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi are a welcome change from the bargain buys of the previous years.  We paid around £7 million for Benteke and £6 million for Delph because we were sure of their quality and we had to fight off significant competition to do so. Gueye and Amavi look to be at that level, as well as addressing major weak points in the squad.

That efficiency and ambition needs to continue. Sherwood has to make swift decisions about which previous signings such as Libor Kozak, Carles Gil and Carlos Sánchez can be worked into the team and where upgrades will be needed. A new forward is the obvious gap but questions remain in central midfield and right-back or central defence, depending on how Micah Richards is utilised.

Establishing a footballing identity

To look for a like-for-like replacement for departed players or something totally new is a question that has tripped up many a side. Liverpool fans are still howling that Christian Benteke is not another Luis Suarez as Tottenham fans stare at their team and wonder where the world-record Gareth Bale money went. Meanwhile Jose Mourinho sells Juan Mata, signs Cesc Fabregas and wins the league for Chelsea again.

The upside, and I know how pathetic it sounds, is that Villa have been so bereft of a tactical style in the last three years that Tim Sherwood can impose his own vision. Benteke and Delph may have helped drag Villa away from relegation but they were not the cornerstone of a fixed system.

Tactically Sherwood´s vision remains somewhat mysterious, though physicality and a willingness to push forward appears to be a theme, a shift away from the counter-attack and possession football that failed under Lambert. It's the psychological element that Sherwood has talked about most of all, developing a winning mentality in a team and players that have largely known only failure. With Villa Park recording the lowest attendance percentage last season, any change that introduces a more attacking style will be welcome.

Developing youth to sell

To put it simply, Jack Grealish should have a price on his head. It might be £10, 15 or 20 million but the club need to know exactly how much they think he's worth and be willing to sell if someone offers over that valuation.  That should be true for every single player on the club's books.

Villa must develop a stream of youth players who can be sold at a profit. This is not a popular idea with many fans, who prefer the idea of a local lad becoming a team star, but it is key to a side looking to come up from a lower position. Southampton sold Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on their rise. Those who argue "they could win the league if they still had those players now" miss the point. Their current position as a sustainable top-half Premier League side is a result of their willingness to make those decisions.

English players now come at a massive premium, as the top clubs look to boost their homegrown quotas and capitalise on the publicity value of English stars. As depressing as that is, it also represents a huge opportunity for sides that can successfully develop young English players. Not every single one needs to be sold for huge amounts to the top clubs so long as a profit is made.

Having a supply of players who can effectively fill gaps in the squad avoids wasting money on a series of low-quality transfers, while allowing for them to showcase their talents. Those who can't make it at regular first-team level should then be sold to make room for the next generation. Callum Robinson and Gary Gardner should be first up, to either make their case or be moved on by the end of the season

Looking long-term - beyond the manager

Sherwood's first transfer season has looked promising so far, but there is a much bigger task to be done at the club.

The long-term manager who crafts a team is finished in the Premier League. The rise of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger cannot be replicated in the current hyper-competitive league and any manager with exceptional short term-success will be head-hunted.

Villa should already be planning for a future without Sherwood and that means developing a consistent business model, a style of play and a constantly updated list of managerial targets. After Martin O'Neill the failed appointments of Gerard Houlier, Alex McLeish and finally Paul Lambert were the actions of a club lurching haphazardly towards whoever was available. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

The appointment of Hanrik Almstadt as a Sporting Director was a key step, one which will hopefully put an end to the kind of farcical contract negotiation that led to this week's events.  However it will need to be pushed further, possibly against Sherwood's objections, to the establishment of a system where the removal of a manager won´t destabilise the team's progress. Villa must find its feet again as a club bigger than any single man, manager or player.