Aston Villa have signed nine players this summer, which is a pretty nice thing considering the club’s lost plenty of players in the transfer window as well.
But the Claret and Blues’ business isn’t done just yet — and I’m not talking about recruiting new players, rather about jettisoning those who aren’t in Tim Sherwood’s plans for the upcoming season, be it via loan or a permanent sale.
At the close of the transfer window, Premier League rules dictate each club must submit a squad list of senior players for use in that season’s league matches. There are two important size constraints, however: The list must have no more than 25 players on it, and no more than 17 non-"home grown" players.
There’s also the other important thing, which is that U-21 players don’t count against the 25-man limit. How the league defines being U-21 eligible is a little odd, as it’s taken from 1 January of the year in which the season starts — so, for example, any player born on 1 January 1994 or later doesn’t need to be named to the squad, while any player born in 1993 or earlier must be in order to be used.
As for the "home grown" players, defined as spending three years between the ages of 16 and 21 in the English league system, Villa look to be fine. They have more senior players who are "home grown" than those who aren’t, so it’s extremely unlikely Villa need to worry about it; the only way the club would is if they sign four more foreigners before the close of the window and include both Aly Cissokho and Aleksander Tonev in the 25. Not happening.
But, for the other, perhaps more important point, and that’s the size of Villa’s squad. Right now, Villa have 29 senior players under contract for next season, which means Sherwood and his staff could have some decisions to make if further exits aren’t made by the end of the month. Here’s the list…
Goalkeepers: Mark Bunn, Brad Guzan, Jed Steer
Defenders: Nathan Baker, Joe Bennett, Aly Cissokho, Ciaran Clark, José Ángel Crespo, Janoi Donacien, Alan Hutton, Jores Okore, Micah Richards, Kieran Richardson, Philippe Senderos
Midfielders: Leandro Bacuna, Joe Cole, Gary Gardner, Carles Gil, Idrissa Gueye, Charles N’Zogbia, Carlos Sánchez, Scott Sinclair, Aleksander Tonev, Jordan Veretout, Ashley Westwood
Forwards: Gabby Abonlahor, Jordan Ayew, Rudy Gestede, Libor Kozák
Before we dive in position-by-position, a note: Neither Jordan Amavi and Jack Grealish are listed above; they’re certainly in my squad, but they’re U-21 eligible. That helps.
At the goalkeeper spot, I’d say Bunn and Guzan are "locks" to be in the 25, provided Sherwood doesn’t replace the latter with a new starter — in which case, the numbers stay the same. Steer is interesting. In theory, I think he’s the club’s second-best keeper, but he could also really benefit from regular action in the Championship or League One. Loaning him and leaving him off the list would mean Bunn would assume second-string duties, and U-21 keeper Bradley Watkins would likely be third string.
Defence is super interesting, especially as most Villa fans would like to see a new centre half and right back in before the end of the window. Villa have seven senior centre backs at the club, and a gluttony of average talent across the back. Clark, Crespo, Hutton, Okore and Richards are all certainly locks with where the back line currently stands, and Bennett is by all accounts the second-choice left back. If Baker isn’t named, it’s because Sherwood loaned him out and brought someone new in, so we’ll count him as "in." We’ll talk about the other four in a bit.
Midfield is also interesting, though a little less so, as everyone’s here generally Premiership-quality. Bacuna, Gil, Gueye, Sánchez, Sinclair, Veretout and Westwood are all locks, and Joe Cole is probably in the squad as well, judging by his 45 minutes at the City Ground this weekend. Gardner’s injury situation complicates this a bit — would a half-season loan back to Forest be better for all involved? — while CNZ and Tonev are probably on their way out.
All four forwards are locks. Nothing to see here.
So, going through this, I’ve picked out nine guys who are in danger of missing the squad — Steer, Baker, Cissokho, Donacien, Richardson, Senderos, Gardner, N’Zogbia, Tonev. Everyone else, presumably, is good as safe in the 25, barring a major injury.
And let’s remember, we have to "dump" at least four of these guys, and more if new signings like Emmanuel Adebayor come in.
To be frank about it, there’s no way in hell Janoi Donacien makes this team unless enough other guys leave the club that we might as well throw him on. He’s not there yet, and I’m not sure he ever will be. Perhaps a loan-to-buy deal with a lower-league side could be advantageous for all parties.
So there’s one. If Villa want to do this all through loans, they probably can, though that’s not the most cost-effective move: Steer, Baker and Gardner should all be able to find homes in the Championship (or perhaps League One for Steer), which if nobody else comes in would free up the space.
For the other five players though, it becomes a lot more interesting. They’re a group of guys who are sitting around, waiting for a club to make an offer for them that may or may not come.
At the end of the day, Kieran Richardson’s versatility will likely warrant his inclusion in the squad, and Senderos should stay if no other centre back comes in, but they’re far from safe. Cissokho’s deal, still with three years left, complicates things for a guy not in Sherwood’s plans, and Tonev may have trouble finding a move.
Then there’s the ever-cryptic Charles N’Zogbia, for whom who the hell knows what the future holds. He’s still okay enough to be used in a pinch, but I think we’d all like to see him out.
Regardless, the numbers dictate Villa should be looking to secure moves for these five at a quick pace, especially if they’re trying to bring anyone else in before the close of the window. Randy Lerner has allowed Sherwood and Tom Fox to reinvest the income from this summer’s sales, but I can’t see him being willing to slap down millions on players who won’t even be eligible to play this window.
Food for thought as the window goes on: It may be a little worse than "one in, one out" right now.
Who would you like to see leave Villa Park, or at least be left off the 25-man roster in September? Let us know in the comments!