As ever with Aston Villa, the football gods giveth and the football gods taketh away. It happened once again on New Year’s Day, when we saw Brazilian striker Wesley score his first goal in 13 league games before being stretchered off with a reported anterior cruciate ligament tear to his knee.
What makes this so tragic is the cruel timing of this injury, as Wesley had been putting in one of his best performances against Burnley, seemingly thriving in the new tactics and formations employed by Dean Smith. He scored the goal, controlling a deflected cross before beating Nick Pope with a volley, all the while providing a constant threat running into the channels and linking up well with Jack Grealish, who was relishing playing close to the big striker.
Then as Wesley again looked to cause the Burnley defence a headache, Ben Mee pulled out a reckless scissor tackle to bring him down, the ball deflecting out for a goal kick. At first glance it looked relatively innocuous, as there was little reaction from Wesley, so maybe the referee could be forgiven for not reaching for a yellow card. However, as the stoppage progressed and the stretcher came out, the anguish of the situation became apparent.
Whilst we await official news on the injury, the reports suggest that Wesley’s season is over. His job now will turn to recovery and rehabilitation, which may include surgery.
Fans are aware of the turbulent start to Wesley’s Villa career — although he has found the net six times, his general contribution often feels uninspiring. A lack of striking instinct and awareness in the box, poor hold up play and dropping too deep are all regular criticisms levelled at the Brazilian. There have also been concerns about the theatrical performances he puts up, to win fouls, particularly the bizarre incident at Villa Park when he appeared to pretend to be unconscious. In December it reached the point where fans were calling for Jonathan Kodjia, despite him appearing to have no real future at the club.
Smith however, has shown a great deal of faith in Wesley, insisting on many occasions that he contributes in accordance with his instructions and everyone was happy with his efforts. Further to this, those in the know report that Wesley had become a popular member of the dressing room His efforts to improve and live up to his potential have not gone unnoticed, contributing to him receiving his first Brazil senior call up in November.
If there is one silver lining it is that the injury has occurred at the beginning of the January transfer window, so Villa’s recruitment team now have the chance to replace Wesley for the remainder of the season. Most felt striker reinforcements would be coming in this month anyway, as Wesley would require not only back up but also some realistic competition for his place. Villa will now feel extra urgency to find a decent goal getter as Smith only has Kodjia and Keinan Davis, himself returning from a long lay off, as his front man options, going into a busy January fixture schedule.
Media outlets have been quick to begin linking strikers to Villa, with the latest names being Aleksandar Mitrovic from Fulham, though it appears there are stronger links to Chelsea’s out-of-favour Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi, coming in on loan. Sky Sports believe that contact has been made between Villa and Chelsea, but the forward may prefer to fight for a place at Stamford Bridge.
It may be that two strikers are now required, particularly if Kodjia does move on as planned over the next few weeks. However, all football fans know how difficult it is to get a decent player for anything like their true value in the January market, especially now other clubs know Villa are desperate. This is undoubtedly where Dean Smith, Jesus Pritarch and Christian Purslow will earn their money. We now wait with interest and – let’s be honest – anxiety to see what they can deliver.
Today though, on behalf of everyone at 7500 to Holte, I wish Wesley a full and successful recovery and look forward to his return to the claret and blue number 9 shirt. Go well big man.