Are Villa calling Stoke’s bluff?

By Graham Hill

VILLA’S hunt for a new goalkeeper is becoming increasingly intriguing – and you wonder if a few minds games are going on.

First, boss Dean Smith wanted Neil Etheridge, then it switched to the expensive Jack Butland and now the target is Burnley’s Tom Heaton – who Villa were strongly linked with in January before they signed Lovre Kalinic.

And you have to think that Villa are trying to call Stoke City’s bluff.

They do not want to pay the £25million being asked for England keeper Butland – and neither do Bournemouth it seems.

But this is the summer Butland knows he has to move back to the Premier League if he is to keep his place in the England squad.

There have been suggestions that Butland would be happy enough to play another season in the Championship if clubs do not meet Stoke’s asking price.

Unlikely. Butland made it quite clear in interviews towards the end of last season that he has to go this summer after failing to make his exit 12 months ago.

You would have to think that Butland is Smith’s top target although the other keepers mentioned have strong pedigrees.

So far, Villa have gone in with lower offers for Etheridge and Heaton – with the latest offer reported to be £7million – around a third of the fee they would pay for Butland. Some reports suggest Southampton’s Alex McCarthy is another target.

But Stoke are in an odd position. They wanted £30million for Butland last summer and could not get that.

Now clubs are turning their noses up at £25million. Potters manager Nathan Jones has already made it clear he does not want unhappy players around the club – although Butland is likely to remain as professional as ever if he stays.

It would make sense for Stoke to agree a deal similar to that which took Tyrone Mings to Villa Park.

A down payment now with add-ons related to appearances, League position and England caps. And the same applies to Bournemouth if Butland chooses a move to the south coast.

It would be no surprise to see Butland start the season with Stoke – who have already signed a new keeper in Adam Davies from Barnsley. But there would still be a week to go before the transfer window closes – and that could focus a few minds when it comes to Butland’s future.

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