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Relegation alters who Villa should pursue in transfer market

In the past, it hasn’t necessarily been the greatest policy for Villa to buy older veterans. But with hundreds of millions waiting in the top flight, the Claret and Blues should look for quality this summer, no matter the age.

Ross McCormack plays for Fulham during this year’s Championship campaign.
Ross McCormack plays for Fulham during this year’s Championship campaign.
Harry Trump/Getty Images

Elis wrote on it yesterday, but Aston Villa have been linked with a move for Fulham’s Ross McCormack, who has a £12 million release clause in his contract.

If we were having this discussion any time in the last, oh, 28 years, I’d have a pretty clear stance: No, I wouldn’t want to spend that much cash on a 29-year old. No way. When you’re already sitting in the Premier League, McCormack is one of those signings you only make to preserve your status in the division — not to improve your place from 12th to 9th. There’s just not enough value there to spend that kind of money on a player that doesn’t have much sell-on value.

Of course, Aston Villa aren’t a Premier League side any more, and that’s why the calculus of the situation completely changes.

This weekend, Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday will play the richest game in the wide world of sports; to the winner go the spoils of £200 million in guaranteed revenue. And if you walked to the KC Stadium or to Hillsborough today and asked club brass if they’d be willing to spend £50 million for a guaranteed goal in Saturday’s promotion final, I’d bet you’d get the same from each chairman, manager and supporter.

Absolutely.

And that’s where everything’s, well, different. When you’re comfortably a Premier League side, there’s very little point in buying 29-year-old players. Period. If you buy a guy for £12 million and sell him a couple years later for £6 million, you probably haven’t made the club better in the long run.

But if McCormack would prove to be the difference between Villa winning promotion next year and toiling for even one more season in the Championship, he’d be worth well more than that £12 million value to the club. Maybe try five times that figure.

Of course, that doesn’t mean every Championship squad should start blowing eight-figure transfer fees on guys who could make a difference — and Fulham’s tale should be a cautionary one. The Cottagers’ squad hasn’t been near promotion quality in the seasons since they saw the drop, and blowing the £11 million they did on McCormack hasn’t quite worked out in that way. Reinvest that into two or three quality players, and maybe they wouldn’t have been in the relegation dogfights they’ve needed McCormack to get out of.

Where McCormack has value is to the top-end clubs in the Championship, in the same way that Jordan Rhodes provided some key goals to help Middlesbrough secure promotion during the second half of the season. He’s not the type of guy you buy if you’re not close, but if McCormack — or someone similar — is the difference between even second and third, you shouldn’t hesitate at all to pay that release clause.

The question Villa must answer is where the club sits. Under new owner Dr. Tony Xia, it seems like the club will spend enough to prioritize an immediate Premier League return. If the six or seven new signings for £30 or £40 million materializes like Xia’s hinted at, we’ll have no issues and McCormack should be one of the club’s top targets — if not the biggest one out there.

But those signings need to be made with that in mind. Villa have great youth coming up through the system, and have some players with great potential already in the first-team squad.

Spending £35 million to sign six veterans? If they’re the right guys, it could be a summer that nets the club a hell of a lot more down the road.