Dave Woodhall looks ahead to the forthcoming season at Villa Park.
Just like Christmas, new seasons seem to arrive quicker every year and with the 2022 version a few days away, it’s time to cast a glance at what the coming months might hold for our claret and blue heroes.
Personnel-wise there have been a few changes and there’s likely to be a few more before the transfer window shuts. We’ve sold some players who weren’t good enough for where we want to get to and we’ll be getting a ridiculously large amount for one who seems to believe he should be there already. In return we’ve brought in players who should improve the team immediately, as well as the usual crop of youngsters for the future.
Of the ones who’ve left, there can’t be anyone who wished Conor Hourihane anything but the best. Not only was he one of the players who gave their all in getting us promoted, he also provided some of the brightest memories during that period – a howitzer of a goal against Small Heath and the play-off semi strike amongst them. Good luck to him and also to Trezeguet, whose goal got us to Wembley for the League Cup final as well as the others either leaving on loan or for good, with one exception. Yes, I am bitter and mean-spirited.
Of the arrivals Robin Olsen is a steady back up keeper, Diego Carlos seems to have settled in already and will provide competition for our established central defensive pairing, with Ludwig Augustinsson doing the same at left back. Boubacar Kamara is not only the elusive thing we’ve been looking for, namely a midfielder who can both win the ball and do something useful with it, he also arrived on a free, showing that Villa are finally working out how to use the transfer market. Talking of which, Philipe Coutinho’s permanent transfer was the modern equivalent of the Dutch buying Manhattan off the Indians for those beads and trinkets in the seventeenth century.
That’s on top of the players we’ve already got, and there are a few whose time is running out if they’re going to have much more of a future here. Douglas Luiz is a prime example; a player who has shown on occasions to be world-class and doesn’t seem to have improved either in performance or consistency since he arrived. Admittedly he’s been played out of position for a lot of the time but he doesn’t have that excuse anymore. The same can be said of John McGinn who, like Tyrone Mings, must show that to paraphrase Keith Wyness (remember him?) they’re good enough not only for the getting up and staying up teams, but also for the one that establishes itself near the top of the Premier League.
Coutinho and Emiliano Buendia should provide enough flair on their own, then with Leon Bailey showing glimpses of what he’s capable of during the pre-season tours, we should be a vast improvement going forward than we were last season. Which leads to another dilemma. We’ve got to find a way of geting the best out of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, both of them proven goalscorers and both disappointing in 2021-22. There doesn’t seem to better anyone better who’s available and we could realistically hope to attract, although admittedly that’s the sort of thing that was being said before Coutinho pitched up in Aston.
We’ve also got some of the best young players in the country ready to step up to the mark. Kaine Kessler Hayden and Josh Feeney have particularly impressed during pre-season, Tim Iroegbunam has that touch of quality about him while Cameron Archer continues to answer every question asked of him.
It’s all looking promising and a couple more new arrivals would make it even better, but to repeat what I’ve said before, we have to make definite progress this time round and that means either being in the hunt for European qualification or winning a trophy. Great owners, ambitious redevelopment plans and a highly-promising manager have got to add up to more than mid-table anonymity. This has got to be the season where potential becomes reality.