It has been a relatively quiet week on the incoming transfer front since the signing of Ashley Young last week, with few new links being made. ‘Grealish Euro’ fever has taken hold of the nation after the win against Germany and despite a Friday morning scare, it appears genuine interest from City is yet to materialize in a bid. Other news comes from Villa’s continued pursuit of Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe and an exciting link to Julián Álvarez as the club looks to improve in possession.
Latest on Emile Smith-Rowe
Villa’s second bid of £30 million for Emile Smith Rowe has continued to raise eyebrows both in Birmingham and North London in regards to what is fueling further interest, with Arsenal unwilling to sell according to reports by those close to the club. While taken as an insulting joke by always reasonable the Arsenal social media, £30 million is a serious bid for a promising youngster with only half a season of Premier League experience and an unfortunate injury history.
If Smith Rowe were to join Villa, he would presumably play in his favored number 10 position between Grealish and Buendia, where he would offer an excellent passing presence to build attacks with Villa’s more ball carrying focused offensive players. Such a player could be the linkup between defense and attack that further helps Villa limit the amount of scoring opportunities from breaking down in the final third; making the team more possession focused in the process.
There would be some adjustment however, the number 10 position is flexible in Smith’s system, sometimes playing as a second striker, and sometimes dropping deep into the midfield. Smith Rowe would need to improve both his goal threat and his defensive work rate to fulfill his potential in these aspects. Another concern pertains to squad balance as the likes of Smith Rowe, Grealish, and Buendia can all fill the number 10 position, looking to attack the spaces between a centre-back and full-back and play in-between the opposition defense and midfield — meaning the attack could lack penetration and perhaps get in each others way.
There is no smoke without fire and a second bid confirms Villa’s interest in Smith Rowe is serious. There appears to be something behind the scenes of this transfer saga as many speculate that it is fueled by the player’s agent. Arsenal have been in contract talks with Smith Rowe’s team since April and are seemingly no closer to a breakthrough, indicating that the play-maker and his representatives do not feel as though he is being appropriately valued by the club; especially when he keeps high earners like Nicolas Pépé out of the side.
Arsenal, for their part, are in a cash tight situation, losing money even before the pandemic hit and the Smith Rowe contract will set the tone for renegotiation's with other young players such as Bukayo Saka next year. Villa can offer both a starting spot and higher wages, being unburdened by debt thanks to NSWE. That being said, Smith Rowe is still expected to sign a new Arsenal contract and selling the popular homegrown player would be unthinkable as the club’s relationship with its fans already tense and the player himself has spoken about being a ‘one club man’.
Chances of Occurring: Still as likely as Thomas Müller is to missing in a one-on-one with Jordan Pickford: 2/10
A more realistic target at this time would be River Plate’s 21-year-old Argentinian international, Julián Álvarez. Reports in Argentina have even gone as far as to claim a deal has been finalized for the player at £20 million, but reports close to Villa simply indicate some interest and early contact on Villa’s part, which may not materialize in anything concrete.
The all-purpose attacker scored four and assisted seven in all competitions in 2021, and his six league assists was joint top in the competition, while playing on either wing, as a striker, and as a number 10. The case for purchasing a utility attacker is perhaps greater than an out and out number nine, with the position covered by Ollie Watkins and the returning Wesley.
At 21, Álvarez would be a long-term option, offering cover in multiple positions from the bench, particularly on the right wing where Villa have previously been linked with other youth prospects behind Traore in the form of Mehdi Zerkane. If played as a striker, he would likely have to drop off in front of a defense with his small 1.7 metre frame, requiring some adjustment from Villa’s build-up, but offering a different goal scoring option to Villa’s other strikers.
As a winger, he offers pace and the ability to put in low crosses, particularly from the right where he can stretch a defense; filling the gap left by Trézéguet’s injury. It is also possible to see Álvarez in the starting line-up behind Watkins in the second striker role that was often taken up by Ross Barkley to win second balls from long passes, though with more pace to offer compared to the Chelsea midfielder.
The interest in Álvarez is in an early stage, but could quickly progress with a second bid for Smith Rowe turned down. The player offers more flexibility in the roles he can play, making him a useful option from the bench. His call-up to the Argentina national team this summer also demonstrates his fantastic potential to break into the starting line-up and likely gives Álvarez the points needed to join fellow Argentinians Buendia and Martinez under the new regulations for a work permit in the UK.
Chances of Occurring: About the same as Grealish starting the next England game: 4/10
Villa have been linked to Fulham centre-back Tosin Adarabioyo in order to fill the hole left by Bjorn Engels’ departure. The rumor by Complete Sports also lists a number of other Premier League clubs who are interested, particularly with his release clause lowered to just £10 million due to The Cottagers relegation from the Premier League.
Adarabioyo could offer good cover at centre-back, but similarly to Axel Tuenzebe, he would have to be quite unambitious to opt into a fourth choice role at the age of 23. The Complete Sports article lists a number of more suitable options for his career, as well as an Athletic article stating that Adarabioyo had received contact from one of the clubs currently without a manager (i.e., Crystal Palace, Everton prior to Rafael Benítez, and Tottenham prior to Nuno Espírito Santo). Any interest from Villa would likely be turned down if there was any interest in the first place.
Chances of Occurring: Similar chance to a Fabian Delph return to Villa Park: 1/10
A rather recent report from The Telegraph lists Harry Winks as a defensive option considered by the club. Tottenham have only just appointed Nuno Espírito Santo as manager, so any outgoings are unlikely to take place until the new manager approves it. The midfielder has come in and out of the side in the last few years, being mostly out of favor until interim coach Ryan Mason’s stint in the dugout at the end of last season.
Having fallen on difficult times, a deal for Winks should have minimal issues when it comes to Villa completing the transfer, but it is difficult to see what Winks would bring as a defensive midfield as Douglas Luiz, who is younger, has the Tottenham man beat in a number of defensive metrics. As an eight, however, Winks fills a role discussed in this column last week — Villa have several ball carrying number eights, but outside of Luiz, Villa have few midfielders that look to move the ball by passing.
Winks fills this well, with his high number of passes regularly finding their target, and his number of line-breaking progressive passes at an elite level; intriguing for someone often accused of only moving the ball sideways (similar to former Villan, Ashley Westwood). Should his defensive numbers improve, there is a case for Winks as part of a midfield three in which frees John McGinn to push further forward and an improvement in his defensive record could see him challenge for the number six position too.
Winks would not be the exciting blockbuster transfer that Ward-Prowse would be, does not have the promise of a young player like Sarr, and would be riskier than a move for the cheaper option in Hughes. This move would not be ideal either, with Spurs only just appointing a new manager a matter of days ago and Villa looking to get their business done early. However, should other options not work out, Winks should not be dismissed from consideration and could be an answer to Villa’s midfield balance issues.
Chances of Occurring: Same chance as remaining dry in a beer garden when England score: 2/10