2024 and all that

Dave Woodhall looks ahead to the new season fast approaching.

Many years ago, when Villa manager Alex McLeish (a phrase that even now it’s harder to write than it is to read) was sacked, the noted Express & Star expert on all things Astonian Martin Swain said that nothing summed up Villa’s decline over the previous two years than the list of managers in the running for the job. When Martin O’Neill left we were linked with Martin Jol and Rafa Benitez before Gerard Houlier was appointed. By the time Villa were unMcLeished the names in the frame were Mick McCarthy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

It might sound irrelevant, but few things in football show where you stand in the greater scheme of things than who you get linked with. Not even the most scurrilously clickbait Twitter insider would bother putting the name of a no-mark club together with a world-class player, so one of the most significant things in the way Villa are being perceived now is the quality of player who we’re set to swoop for. The latest is Italian international Nicolo Zaniolo, while the Joao Felix links continue on a regular basis. These are quality players and there wouldn’t be anything said about them joining the Villa if the general concensus wasn’t that we mean business.

And yes, I know we’ve been here before. Juninho, Christian Vieiri, Ruud van Nistelroy. The difference now is that we’ve got owners who don’t need to hog the limelight – indeed, they seem to go out of their way to avoid publicity – and we’ve already shown this summer that we mean business in our transfer dealings. Youri Tielemans, Moussa Diaby and Pau Torres have arrived, none of them for massive fees in comparison to what’s being spent elsewhere and one on a free. We’re being linked with top players because we’re signing top players. Another two or three before the end of August would be welcome.

With all these incomings there has been a few going the other way. Marvelous Nakamba has gone to Luton after a Villa career where he showed that he could have been valuable but didn’t show it too often. It’s strange to think that when he and Douglas Luiz arrived during the summer of 2019 it was Nakamba who made the better first impression. Wesley was another signing at that time and while he flattered to deceive, he showed enough promise until his career was disrupted by the psychopathic Ben Mee. Good luck to both of them. Ashley Young’s departure wasn’t exactly a surprise even if him signing for another Premier League club was, although it is only Everton. And the best of luck also to Jed Steer, a player best remembered for the finest act of psychological warfare in football history.

It seems as though Aaron Ramsey is off to Burney with a buy-back clause in his contract. This is the sort of thing that gives bigger clubs an even more unfair advantage, but it’s nice to see that in this situation not only are we the big club but we’re also working out how to use a new development at the start, unlike such things as Bosmans and loans, when we were years behind everyone else. Hopefully in a couple of years time we’ll be buying him back as an England international, and if reports are correct the same will go for Cameron Archer.

Villa are going into the new season on the back of a good pre-season, with trips to the USA, Spain and Walsall resulting in useful victories and even more useful showings by some of the Academy graduates, in particular Jaden Philogene and Omari Kellyman. But if you’re looking for something familiar amidst all this unaccustomed optimism we’ve also got seven players out already and Emiliano Buendia looks like he’ll be on the sick for most of the season. Some things never change.

On the pitch things look brighter than they have for many years, but there are still a couple of lessons to be learned off it. Ticket prices have gone up more than they needed to and there was the fiasco of the badge consultation. Perhaps more than anything else, though, is the ongoing saga of Terrace View. This came out of another consultation, and more than likely another one where Christian ‘A Corporate in Every Cupboard’ Purslow knew the answers he wanted before he asked the questions. Corporates in the Holte, queue jumping for season tickets if you can afford it, stories of preferential treatment for aways, more premium games and less cheaper price zones. Add them together and it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that Villa are aiming for a customer base that’s a bit different to the one who’ve been turning up at Villa Park since 1897.

We need to maximise income but you don’t have to alienate or price out your traditional support; we’ll be paying top six prices and expectations will rise likewise. On that note it would be good if Villa came out and answered a few of the questions about the future of the Holte and other currently non-corporate areas. But that’s all for another time; this is the week for unbridled optimism.

Villa made a lot of progress last season and there’s no reason why we can’t carry it on; we certainly won’t be going un-noticed like we did for much of 2022-23. And it’s definitely our year for….