Since arriving in the summer, with every passing week, Wesley has become a player that I feel more and more connected to. I’ve tried to write the article several times so far this season, but each game has succeeded in adding a new layer to his story, such has been the rollercoaster start to his life in a Villa shirt.
This emotional attachment goes beyond his four goals in 11 league games or the debates over his role in Dean Smith’s side. In my view, the 22-year-old has come to signify something bigger. He is the antithesis of the ready-made star, the type of player brought in to ‘guarantee’ an instant fix. Instead, the Brazilian’s impact is bolder and something more fitting with Villa’s burgeoning side: Wesley Moraes symbolises every player’s capacity for improvement and is a real-time success story for Villa’s coaching team.
The main problem is that he doesn’t necessarily fit into a neat category.
Frustration came after his opening two games; isolated and fleetingly enraged, his demeanour appeared somewhere between bewildered and contemptuous at his lack of involvement.
Wesley’s eventual response came in typically dramatic fashion, under the Friday night lights against Everton. A sudden gust of wind ran down Trinity Road as the Holte End breathed a collective sigh of relief. Their record signing was off the mark and had led them to victory – but it was more than that.
The young striker chased every ball, relentlessly closing down defenders as Villa harried a worrisome Everton backline. Channelling the aggression that he had shown discontentedly in the opening weeks, Wesley chose to do battle with Yerry Mina, the former Barcelona centre-back, and emerged victorious.
It was something of a checklist performance, as the Brazilian forward addressed every criticism levelled at him by more anxious supporters, one-by-one.
However, his pattern of inconsistency pervaded. Two more games went by before Wesley was back at his imperious best against Arsenal, only to be followed by another subdued display against Burnley. The doubting voices became audible, once more.
Speaking in the aftermath of the Burnley game and ahead of the 5-1 demolition of Norwich, Dean Smith confessed that Wesley was only too aware of his need to improve.
”His performance wasn’t great against Burnley and he was the first to admit it afterwards as well. He said the same when I went through the clips. What I have seen is a reaction in training. He’s trained very well this week and will be the first to go out there and prove people wrong. It’s a tough job as a lone striker. [He’s] a young striker, still only 22, but he will get better.”
Wesley rewarded his manager’s faith with two goals and an assist at Carrow Road. Naturally.
The message has been clear: Villa’s number 9 has learned from every tough game, adapted, and been eager to rectify any mistakes. Last weekend saw him play deeper against Liverpool. Avoiding the pitfalls of the Burnley game, as to not get overawed by Jurgen Klopp’s centre-halves, Wesley drifted more towards the flanks, holding up the ball and linking with midfield. According to Whoscored, he enjoyed as much time with the ball as John McGinn.
His battling qualities, showcased at his previous best, emerged as he jostled with Virgil Van Dijk in the air and targeted Dejan Lovren in possession. Performing a selfless role, in favour of the team’s fast-break approach, he received a standing ovation for his efforts.
Footballers are human. For Wesley, each match has been a life lesson that hasn’t discriminated between the demoralising and the sublime. To draw any sweeping conclusions on a 22-year-old, in a new country, after just 11 games is more than naïve: it denies space to grow, cascading the idea of development in favour of limitation.
It’s understandable why fans believe Wesley’s £22M fee should warrant an immediate goal return, but Villa’s squad has been constructed to form a grander picture. As the season grows older and the team become more streetwise, he will become more consistent.
However, Wesley is a reminder that footballers don’t always have to be the finished product. Through dedication they can blossom game-by-game. His journey to become a true Premier League force may yet prove to be gut-wrenchingly beautiful, but it should be inspirational, above all else.