Last week, I wrote on a group of, largely, potential gone by the wayside: Aston Villa’s 2012-13 NextGen-winning squad.
Of the 11 players that played on that title-winning night, a 2-0 defeat of Chelsea, only three are still with the club: Jack Grealish, Riccardo Calder and Brad Watkins. Big things, of course, are expected out of Grealish, but it must be admitted that it’s more likely Calder and Watkins don’t appear for Villa than it is they ever play a serious role at the club.
Part of what made that win so exciting was that it marked a Villa squad full of promise, be it from Samir Carruthers or Janoi Donacien, and one that beat one of the top academy sides in the world in the final. That Chelsea squad included Andreas Christensen, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s player of the year, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathan Aké, among others still with plenty of potential at a high level.
But since most of that Villa squad never panned out, it left the club a little dry on the potential side of things. Sure, guys like Jordan Lyden, André Green and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy have high ceilings, but banking on this crop of young players that haven’t played serious first-team football is a risky long-term proposition.
Fortunately, new boss Roberto Di Matteo’s done the same analysis, come to the same conclusion, and in his first several weeks on the job, has acted swiftly to resolve it.
Enter Pierluigi Gollini and Aaron Tshibola.
It’s been a little expensive — between the goalkeeper and midfielder, Villa have spent nearly £10 million — but it’s been a worthwhile and necessary outlay to rebuild one of the most important things a club can have: potential.
In Grealish, Tshibola and Gollini, Villa have three players that can be counted on to either be the club’s core, competing near the top of the Premier League, in five years, or to have commanded large fees within that time frame, allowing the club to make subsequent important purchases. While being a selling club isn’t anyone’s goal for Villa, I don’t think, it’s hard to look at Southampton and argue it hasn’t worked out extremely well for them. Saints have done a fantastic job of developing players, selling them for high fees and spending those revenues well.
It must be said, there’s a fourth player that fits that profile at Villa Park, and that’s Jordan Amavi. Keeping him would be a statement of intent, with the player one of the best young left backs in football.
Now, for a quick aside: Obviously, while Gollini and Tshibola will play a part in Villa’s promotion push this year, if we’re just looking at gaining promotion, spending £9.3 million on 28-year olds would help facilitate that better than spending it on 21-year olds does.
But in signing a pair of high-potential players — just ask a Reading fan about Tshibola or an Italian about Gollini, a potential future No. 1 for their country — Di Matteo and Villa realize that there’s more to this whole project than simply winning promotion and embedding the club right into another relegation battle. I’ve long been an advocate of the idea that Villa must position themselves well to not only survive, but to thrive in subsequent seasons after returning to the top flight.
The four years before the relegation campaign were downright horrid at Villa Park, and if that’s the standard the club aim to return to, why even bother? Snagging the duo has returned something incredibly important to B6 — in a word, hope — that should really help us move forward as a club.
But signing Gollini and Tshibola is a clear sign: That while Villa are ready to succeed this year and make an immediate return to the Premier League, the Claret and Blues are also ready to reassume their proper place near the top of the English football ladder in due time.