Earlier this week Villa fans were treated to the first run out of the brand new Aston Villa signings in the new kit against Minnesota United of Major League Soccer. Amongst those new faces was our current all-time record signing - Brazilian striker Wesley Moraes, who cost a reported £22 million from Club Brugge.
There have been mixed reports of his first outing. Some say it was an encouragingly powerful display, with promise of what he will offer in the Premier League, others felt he was off the pace somewhat.
Firstly, we probably should not be making too may judgements on any of the pre-season games. They are effectively practice matches that are merely there to reintroduce some match sharpness into the players and maybe work on some new ideas from a coaching perspective.
However the main reason for writing this piece is because the signing of Wesley evokes memories for me of when Savo Milosevic joined Villa in 1995, for a relatively large £3.5 million. Like Wesley, Milosevic came as a young relative unknown, and was replacing a successful and popular striker, in Dean Saunders, who left the club that summer. Wesley is of course stepping into Tammy Abraham’s sizeable boots, the man who scored 26 league goals last season.
These days, we can reminisce fondly of Savo as being somewhat of a Holte End cult hero. He left Villa 3 years after signing, for the same £3.5 million and went on to have a successful career, mainly in Spain and Italy, which included a transfer to Parma in 2000 for a reported £20 million, which was a huge fee at that time. He also won the Golden Boot for netting five times at Euro 2000 for Yugoslavia.
It is convenient to forget however, the intense pressure and scrutiny that Milosevic came under during his time at Villa. Despite scoring 14 goals and forming a deadly strike partnership with Dwight Yorke in his first season, it seemed that Savo was the man that needed replacing. Whilst his wonder strike at Wembley in the 96 Coca-Cola cup final went a long way to currying favour with the fans, the missed chances and slices to the corner flag earned him the slightly cruel nickname ‘Miss-a-lot-evic’, as he became something of a joke figure both within the fan-base and nationally in the media.
Was this overly harsh? Damn right it was! However, given who he was replacing, his price tag and the fact that Villa had been linked with strikers such as Les Ferdinand and Dennis Bergkamp that summer, it was no surprise that patience was in short supply. With the other new signings, Gareth Southgate and Mark Draper settling in well and Yorke scoring for fun, Milosevic seemed like the weak link, rather that a development opportunity that he should have been.
When ‘Big Wes’ takes to the Premier League stage in the next month or so, there will undoubtedly be huge expectations that he will prove worthy of his price tag. However, as with Savo all those years ago, this is a young man, far from home who will not have competed at anything approaching Premier League level on a weekly basis before. Admittedly he did play in the Champions League last season, however that will not compare to the cut and thrust of weekly top flight football in the English football pressure cooker.
He may surprise us and hit the ground running. One would hope that any striker playing in a Dean Smith team will get plenty of scoring opportunities, with the amount of chances we want to create. However the likelihood is that Wesley will need some time and patience, that sadly was not afforded to Savo.
Unlike Savo, he will not have a partner to help him. Wesley will be expected to score goals, so support in this regard from other areas will be vital to his settling in period. He should also benefit from working under Smith’s leadership and the input of attack minded coach Richard O’Kelly. It is also worth remembering that plenty of legendary Premier League strikers have had to overcome sticky patches right at the start, Dennis Bergkamp, Didier Drogba and Thierry Henry to name a few.
The truth is that the next few months represents somewhat of a lurch into the unknown for Aston Villa. Despite the history of us being a Premier League club, we have been away during a time of phenomenal growth for the ‘product’ so a steady reintegration will be required. The fans must keep this in mind when assessing the performance of our young players as they find their feet.
Wesley will ultimately be judged on goal scoring, but if we give him the space and support to grow into his role, he will stand a far better chance of succeeding and helping the team do well.