The Copa América Centenario is done. With Iceland out, Euro 2016 might as well be, too (pace Wales). The Olympics are... pretty dumb for men’s football. So with fewer distractions around, let’s take stock of where Aston Villa stand now that July is here and training is underway. Here are the big storylines since the season ended and how they set up Villa’s first campaign in the second-flight since the ‘80s.
Aston Villa sold to Tony Xia
Alright, we can’t start with anything else as this is the impetus for everything that will happen this summer. The news broke just three days after Villa’s 4-0 season-ending defeat at Arsenal. Tony Xia, of the Recon Group, was set to buy the club once all the proper tests had been passed. We all assumed it would be a quick affair, but it wasn’t.
Instead, we had to wait through a month of rumours, scuttlebutt, and discouraging revelations about Xia before the sale was officially confirmed on 14 June. In the meantime, we heard that Xia’s holdings were perhaps not as amazing as we had been led to believe. Nevertheless, the new owner kept talking as if Villa could be a top-five team in the world before 2025 (they won’t be) and planned on putting plenty of money into the club.
With the hiring of Roberto Di Matteo, lack of player exodous, and early signings, (not to mention a rumoured £50 million transfer budget) it seems as if Xia actually DOES intend to invest in the club, and all signs point to him being precisely what was needed. Of course it’s far too early to be certain, but it’s hard not to like what we’ve seen thus far.
Roberto Di Matteo appointed as new manager
Speaking of Di Matteo, we got confirmation on 3 June that he was, in fact, Villa’s new manager. The Italian, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012, will be joined by his former teammate Steve Clarke as his assistant.
The early signs have been encouraging, too. Di Matteo shows no evidence of putting up with the ennui that we saw from the vast majority of the squad last year and seems set to give every player a proper chance. There are players I’d rather not see given that chance (see: Agbonlahor, Gabby), but I’ll admit that my reaction is a purely emotional one and not good management. Di Matteo’s approach is probably the most sound, and if he is given latitude by Xia, he should have the power to shape the club as he actually wants it to be, something that wasn’t afforded to either Rémi Garde OR Tim Sherwood.
This could be a very active transfer window
If the rumour of a £50 million transfer budget is to be believed, we could be in for an absolutely massive overhaul this summer. To put that into perspective, £50 million would be more than all but four teams in the Championship (including Villa) are worth, using the numbers from TransferMarkt.co.uk. Even if we assume those numbers are off by a bit, £50 million is certainly enough to buy an entire Championship squad. Add that to the players that Villa already have, and it becomes clear that promotion NOW is the goal.
We’ve already seen the signing of Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth, and rumours are floating around that the club are in the final stages for young Italian goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and Reading midfielder Aaron Tshibola. You’d have to figure that another striker, a right back, and some more depth are all targets as well.
There hasn’t been a massive exodus
One of the biggest worries with the drop was that the few worthwhile players that Villa did have would leave. Say what you will about Jordan Ayew, Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gana, Rudy Gestede, Jores Okore and a few others, but while they had trouble last year, they could be very valuable in the Championship. Sure, Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott ought to go, but we were terrified that the young spine of this team might disappear, and thus far it hasn’t. That’s good news, as it means Di Matteo will get the chance to see if he wants to use any of those players rather than having them sent away before he could.
Will Stiliyan Petrov have a major impact on Aston Villa in the 2016-17 season? Probably not. But if he makes this team, it will be a HUGE boost of morale to the fans who love him and who had grown to hate this iteration of the club.
Besides, there is the chance that the Leukemia survivor will come back and provide leadership and quality play, and if he does that, I think we’ll all have our hero forever.
New kit from Under Armour
Alright, this is probably the least significant change, but it’s still fun. Villa have a new kit deal with Maryland-based apparel manufacturer Under Armour. And the result of the first effort is pretty great. A nice button-top home kit in lovely claret and blue and the away is white with blue on top and a claret stripe. Are they the best kits ever? No. But they’re also not bumble-bee costumes that we got to watch lose so often last year.
Alright, what storylines have I missed? What else has you excited for the upcoming season? Or dreading it? Let us know in the comments!