It seems to be the phrase of the summer when related to Aston Villa transfer business, but rest assured - we are not ‘doing a Fulham’. In fact, we need to avoid doing a ‘Villa under Sherwood’ as a more pressing priority.
Fulham’s disastrous summer window last season, which followed a quite superb promotion push, has become a byword for serious failures of player recruitment and team management on the back of promotion. It is undoubtedly true that Fulham could have gone about their business differently and whether that will have produced a more favourable outcome, will remain a mystery.
At the end of the 2017-18 season Fulham has a tremendously exciting and settled team, under a manager in Jokanovic who coached a fast paced, attacking brand of football, which quite frankly ripped through the Championship. They had a spine of a team, built around sought after club captain Tom Cairney and appeared to be about to attack the Premier League and make Craven Cottage a fortress again.
They then, for reasons best known to themselves, set about adding several players, late in the window, who were parachuted in to that settled and buoyant squad who had been so successful. One might expect some transfer activity, to add Premier League quality in important areas, however the sheer volume and scattergun nature of the recruiting seemed bizarre and desperate and so it proved.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, whilst they also had a dynamic and exciting squad, which went on an explosive run to reach and win the playoffs, had let a round thirteen players from the squad leave, including five first team loan players. This left us with only one recognised centre back in club captain James Chester, who also missed the 2nd half of the season with a serious long term knee complaint.
The recruitment started quickly with Jota joining from Birmingham City only days after the playoff final. Since then we have been one of the busier clubs in the Premier League as our spending moved towards the £100 million mark, with three weeks still until the window closes.
In truth though we have merely been restocking. Three of the 5 loanees have rejoined on permanent contracts, which will be a huge boost for continuity. We have also replaced Tammy Abraham with Wesley Moraes and Axel Tuanzebe with Ezri Konsa from Brentford, as it seems likely that both former loan stars will remain with their parent clubs, Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.
Whilst from the outside it may feel like Villa are engaging in an early morning trolley dash before the rush starts, the plan is actually far more considered and deliberate than that analogy suggests. Dean Smith and co understand the importance of continuity and where that is not possible, adding the right characters and quality to the squad, to give the team the best chance of success, whatever that is deemed to be.
It is important to Smith that new players are able to take his coaching methods and philosophies on board, as well as having a desire to improve technically and tactically. It is clear that the research behind the scenes, by Suso and his scouting network is extensive and the idea of bringing in raw talent, which can be coached and improved, in order to increase their market value is at the heart of that work.
Whilst these are good signs that are at odds with the Fulham ‘blueprint’, the risks are clear. Villa have been promoted too early, which might seem strange to fans who have endured 3 years of Championship football. This summer was meant to be laying the foundations for the new Villa model, establishing a new spine of young talent, as all the older, highly paid pros were discarded. Instead we are happily in the position of putting together a new team to wage an assault on the Premier League, therefore starting from a higher base than expected.
This is a great thing, however being able to sign the talent of the required standard and cost will not be easy. When Tim Sherwood and Aston Villa attempted this in 2015, they fell well short even though we signed players such as Gueye, Veretout and Amavi, who have gone on to show their ability on big stages around Europe.
What Dean Smith has that Tim Sherwood did not however, is a tremendous togetherness and team spirit within his troops. There is a buzz and a belief around the entire club, which will hopefully transmit onto the field come 9th August when it all kicks off verses Tottenham Hotspur.
The jury will be out on all the players and the coaching team, even the likes of Jack Grealish and John McGinn who have been able to do no wrong in recent months. The mainstays of the squad will need to step up quickly to allow the new boys time to settle, although for them, being able to arrive at the club early in pre season will be of huge benefit to them and the club.
It is now a waiting game, as the last few players arrive and possibly leave, however I don’t believe Purslow, Suso and Smith could have done any more, or worked any harder to avoid the Fulham and Sherwood scenarios.