Faced with a return to the Premier League, Aston Villa have been buyers in the summer transfer market. No other club in the top flight has matched Villa’s spending, which is nearing the £100 threshold.
That’s led some to draw parallels to Fulham’s ill-fated dealings of last season, which saw the London club quickly return to the Championship. Wiser heads, however, have seen the system at play behind Villa’s moves.
Whereas Fulham’s moves came close to or on deadline day, Villa’s have come ahead of their preseason tour of the United States. The technical staff is also familiar with many of the players, reducing the chances of any unfortunate surprises.
“If you look at the signings we’ve made, two of them I’ve had before in Jota and Ezri Konsa. Three of them were on loan with us last season: Kortney Hause, Tyrone Mings and Anwar El Ghazi,” pointed out manager Dean Smith at Villa’s preseason training hub in Minnesota.
“We’ve done them all very early, we’ve done them before this tour of the US. It was important that I’ve got them together for at least four weeks of preseason training, so they’re ready for the season. But I know them as well.”
To further minimize the possibility of an incoming transfer failing to pan out, Smith and his staff had specific criteria they sought from each player.
“If you’re going to play for Aston Villa, you’re going to be a top player anyway,” the gaffer said. “But we’re very interested in their personalities and their behavioral traits, that they fit in with our team philosophy.”
The incoming players’ familiarity with either their coach or their teammates was on full display as Villa trained in front of local media in Minnesota. A fast-paced keep-away passing drill was filled with good-natured banter from the squad and assistant coach John Terry, and plenty of cheers whenever a player in the middle was nutmegged.
It’s up to leadership figures at the club, like defender James Chester, to help facilitate the transition for newer players and squad members who are new to the Premier League.
“We’ve signed some good players, but players that haven’t played in England or the Premier League. Myself and a few of us have that, have the experience of playing in the Premier League and in big competitions, so hopefully I can add in that aspect,” said Chester. “I’m probably one of the longest-serving at the club now. I think I have the respect and I can demand the standards that we’ll need to have a successful season.”
Bringing in a platoon of players, as Smith has done, is no simple task. Besides identifying the proper talents for the team, the gaffer also had to sell potential players on the prospects of playing for Aston Villa.
He found it to be pretty easy.
“I think the Premier League is a big seller, obviously. Players want to come and play in the top English league, which is a global league now,” Smith said. “But also the fact that I think anybody who saw the Wembley final, which was billed as the richest game in football – or soccer, over here – will have seen the atmosphere and size that the football club is. It’s quite unique: I’m an Aston Villa supporter, and I’m the head coach. Jack Grealish is an Aston Villa supporter, he’s the team captain who lifted the trophy.”
“There’s a real feeling of togetherness going into the season.”