What a window that was for Villa

By Graham Hill

VILLA have had a rollercoaster ride of a transfer window – but how was it for you?

Unprecedented spending on an almost total squad rebuild.

And when you look at the new names coming in, how many of us could say they were on our own own personal wanted list?

Clearly, the likes of Tyrone Mings and Anwar El-Ghazi were well known and their return was always on the cards.

But Wesley Moraes? When he appeared as Villa’s new record signing it came out of the blue.

It was one new face that did not leak out from abroad and Villa did their business quickly. As for Wesley’s prospects in the Premier League, we will have to simply wait and see after an encouraging pre-season for the big man.

Perhaps his Brazilian counterpart Douglas Luiz is more likely to be the key player at Villa this season. A Manchester City prospect who never played for them because he could not get a work permit.

Now he has the paperwork, he can show what he is capable of on the pitch.

But as he comes with a cast iron reference from Pep Guardiola, then it is not unreasonable to expect him to firm things up in midfield.

Smith has strengthened the wide positions with El Ghazi, Jota and Trezeguet all offering plenty. But missing out on Said Benrahma from Brentford when Smith’s club drove too hard a bargain, seemed to be a rare blow for Villa.

And not signing another striker may yet prove costly unless Jonathan Kodjia can step up to the plate.

Right back Fred Guilbert – who has finally joined up with Villa after signing in January and then being loaned back to Caen – looks promising and ex-Southampton left-back Matt Targett has a point to prove.

In goal, you will struggle to find anyone who has a bad word to say about Tom Heaton’s move from Burnley for £8.5million.

Heaton brings much needed experience to a young, new look, Villa side and is considered to be the safe pair of hands Villa need after Orjan Nyland and Lovre Kalinic failed to make their mark – and Jed Steer is not a bad back up.

But the spine of the side is provided by skipper Jack Grealish and bargain buy John McGinn who has just signed a five year contract.

Their know how should glue the team together along with Mings at the back who knows the DNA of the club after his successful six months at Villa on loan last season.

Mings wlll be partnered by either Ezri Konsa – tipped as a future star – or Belgium Under-21 defender Bjorn Engels.

Villa will miss Tammy Abraham’s goals after last season’s impressive loan spell from Chelsea, but fans have every right to be excited by this team as they prepare for a Premier League return with a manager who has known what the club is about all his life and owners who can provide financial stability.

Villa facing a different landscape

By Graham Hill

MATCHES like Villa’s trip to Tottenham do not come up very often – in fact they have not had one like it for 31 years.

That is the last time Villa emerged from the second tier to regain their place in the top flight – or Division One as it was known then.

Villa had won promotion from the old Second Division in 1988 at the first time of asking under manager Graham Taylor.

And their first game back in Division One was a home game with Millwall – who had been promoted as champions ahead of Villa.

The season did not start until August 27 back then and there was none of the hype surrounding today’s satellite TV dominated football.

Future Villa striker Tony Cascarino scored twice in two minutes for Millwall who went 2-0 up – while a Stuart Gray penalty and an Alan McINally goal earned a 2-2 draw.

All the goals came before the break but the attendance was a mere 22,409.

One look at the Villa team though showed some star names in the line up with Nigel Spink, Gordon Cowans and Allan Evans still there from the 1982 European Cup winning team. David Platt and Paul Birch also started for Villa.

There are some comparisons to be made between now and then with Dean Smith taking Villa up at the first attempt.

But there was nothing like the amount of new faces – and certainly not the money spent during the previous summer.

Chances are there has never been a match like the Tottenham game ever throughout the club’s history.

It is not as important as a European or Wembley final or a title clincher of course.

But it will serve as a measure of what Villa need to do to get back to where they once were.

Villa’s return to the top flight was a mixed bag three decades ago. Their first season back under Taylor saw them avoid relegation by a point. But in 1990, they finished second, nine points behind Liverpool. Taylor got the injured job and the rest is history.

Jo Venglos took over the following season – and with methods of training and diet that were alien then but commonplace now – Villa again flirted with relegation.

Venglos lasted a season before Ron Atkinson came in and lifted Villa to the heights once more as the fledgling Premier League found its feet.

These days, Villa are dealing with a different animal in terms of the modern game.

Villa’s summer spending has passed the £130million mark due to the wealth of current owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris. They have two of the brightest British prospects in the game in future England midfielder Jack Grealish and bargain buy John McGinn.

Yet, with 12 signings – and maybe more before Thursday’s deadline – Villa are an unknown quantity.

Scouts will have had them watched in pre-season and wold have been impressed.

New faces such as Jota, Wesley, Freddy Guilbert and Tom Heaton have settled in well.

Others, we have barely seen yet. I chatted to another football writer recently and we both agreed that Saturday’s game will go one of two ways – a convincing Spurs win or Villa stunning the watching public with a performance to be proud of. A dull 0-0 does not look likely.

Rarely have a team arrived in the top flight with such an obvious mandate and promise to attack – even going to the best teams and preaching the same mantra. Players are saying it, even chief executive Christian Purslow is saying it. Whatever happens this season, it is seems as though – just like the final quarter of last season – it will not be boring.

Blues deal delaying Butland move

By Graham Hill

VILLA target Jack Butland looks set to start the new season at Stoke City with boss Nathan Jones insisting the Potters will not back down on their £20 valuation of the England keeper.

And the hold up can be traced all the way back to Birmingham City.

Butland has been a clear target for Villa boss Dean Smith all summer.

And Villa’s chances of signing him looked good even tough Crystal Palace and Bournemouth were also interested.

Butland wants to come back to the Premier League – and he knows that would enhance his chances of holding down a place in the England squad.

Plus, a move to the Midlands would suit him. Butland is based in Cheshire – handy for Stoke – and going to Villa would mean little by way of upheaval.

There is just one sticking point – Stoke are refusing to sell for anything less than £20million.

Remember – when Blues sold Butland to Stoke over six years ago they wisely inserted a sell-on clause entitling them to 20 per cent of any profit when the up and coming keeper was moved on again.

Stoke paid just £3.5million for Butland in 2013 – a £20million-plus deal now would represent around £17-18million profit for the Potters.

That could see Blues collect a handy £3.5million windfall, maybe more – leaving Stoke effectively selling Butland for around £17million. And it explains why Stoke will not budge on the asking price.

But Blues have just broken their own transfer record – so perhaps they are expecting some money from a Butland move!

It will be an incredibly frustrating time for Butland, 26, who had to wait for his first team chance at Stoke when Asmir Begovic kept him out of the side.

But Stoke boss Jones told Talksport2 that he does not see Butland leaving before the start of the Championship season next week – but the transfer window still has five days to run after that.

Jones said: “Unless we get an offer meeting our valuation, and to be honest I doubt we will now, Jack Butland will be lining up against QPR.”

Jack deserves his £100k a week

By Graham Hill

JACK Grealish has reportedly moved into the £100,000 a week pay bracket at Villa Park – and who would begrudge him that?

The Mirror say that the Villa skipper has had a huge pay rise since leading the team to promotion last season.

And it is doubtful that any Villa fan would complain about that after what Grealish has done since returning to the side after injury last March.

A year ago, Grealish was told he would not be allowed to join Tottenham after Villa’s dire financial situation looked like they would be forced to sell their star man – and on the cheap too.

But the arrival of new owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris saw them tell Grealish he would not be leaving after all.

It probably did not go down well with Grealish. But his attitude in the final quarter of last season was incredible as he led Villa from a position of apparent mid-table mediocrity to the Championship Play-off Final.

Of course, it was not all down to Grealish – plenty of other players produced outstanding displays as Villa built up the sort of momentum that sees teams sneak into the top six when it matter most.

And Grealish’s contract had an obvious incentive attached to it – a bumper pay rise as a reward for winning promotion and a stiputation that he would be allowed to move if Vila were still in the Championship.

But Grealish always wanted to play for Villa in the top flight again and now he will be.

His salary? That is commonplace for well funded teams who want to reward their star men – particularly if the owners’ pockets are deep.

Just take a look across the Midlands at Leicester City whose players were handed huge pay rises after winning the Premier League title. Okay, that’s a bit different to earning promotion.

But if Villa mean business then these are the sort of wages they need to pay if they want to build on last season’s success. It is the football world we live in, prices and salaries have been inflated hugely for the top players, and Villa look to be keeping pace.

Luiz situaton is ‘win-win’ for Villa

By Graham Hill

DOUGLAS Luiz may end up back at Manchester City one day if Pep Guardiola’s recommendation is anything to go by.

But right now, Villa look to be getting one of the rising stars of the game on their books – in the short term at least.

On paper, it is a win-win situation for Dean Smith. He has a player of ‘real potential’ according to Guardiola.

The only reason City cannot keep him at the moment is that the Brazil Under-23 captain would not be given a work permit as part of the club’s army of star talent.

Luiz is not a full Brazil international and has never played for City as a result.

Selling him to Villa – a newly promoted side – means his worth this season as a first team player will be increased.

City are believed to have a ‘buyback’ clause as part of the Villa deal – that means they can automatically return for the player in 12-24 months’ time when Luiz is likely to have extensive Premier League experience.

A work permit would then not be a problem for City and they would resume with a player who would still only be in his early 20s.

Does that mean Villa are simply fine tuning a player for City to take advantage of in the future? Perhaps.

But if Luiz can help Villa consolidate their position in the Premier League as a team that can challenge in the top flight again, then they will be in a position to strengthen again.

Certainly the words of Guardiola suggest that City’s links with the player will be far from severed.

City had loaned out Luiz to Italian side Girona – and while this is no loan, there Guardiola has not forgotten about the defensive midfielder.

Guardiola once said of Luiz: “He has potential – real potential,”

“He’s physically strong and he wants to learn. It was a good experience but he didn’t play regularly in Girona.

“I knew him very well from Brazil and he has trained with us for 10 days.”

And Guardiola is known to have become frustrated with the work permit situation for Luiz.

The City boss added: ”I accept the rules but it’s difficult to understand. They don’t know him.

“They have to judge if he has the ability to decide. Me and the Brazil manager Tite know more about it. They don’t know him, not one game or training session,

“We spent £12-£14m because he’s a player with a huge capacity to play with us.

“I’m so sad and disappointed for Douglas, he could have played, he’s shown many good things.”

Before the Villa deal emerged, Guardiola said: ”We are going to send him on loan again and try to get the work permit. I don’t understand but we’re in England and you have to accept it.”

Verdict: Walsall 1, Villa 5

By Graham Hill

VILLA’S pre-season friendly victory over Walsall gave fans plenty of reasons to be cheerful – but the acid test will come when the Premier League campaign kicks off next month.

It is all very well putting League Two Saddlers to the sword in a 5-1 win, but a strong Villa side did not need to move into top gear.

But some of the individual displays at the Banks’ Stadium on Wednesday night were outstanding nonetheless.

Jota, in particular, showed exactly why Dean Smith wanted to be reunited with the Spaniard after the pair worked together at Brentford.

The former Blues winger was not restricted to a wide role and he scored twice as well as setting up Wesley for his first Villa goal – a remarkably cooly taken penalty kick.

That is spot kick duties sorted for next season then.

And with Jota causing problems, Wesley also showed he could turn provider as the big Brazilian held off the efforts of Walsall’s attempts to stop him before laying on a pinpoint pass for Jack Grealish to make it five.

There should also be honourable mentions for the full-backs Fred Guilbert and Matt Targett.

Both looked accomplished in their roles with Guilbert setting up Jota nicely for the opening goal of the night.

There was a debut for Bjorn Engels who partnered Tyrone Mings at the heart of the Villa defence – but Walsall offered little threat at both players probably be given a greater test in the remainder of this pre-season.

Visa issues kept new Egypt winger Trezeguet out of the Villa line up at Walsall, and with Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba on their way, there will be more layers to add to Smith’s squad.

The Villa boss also wants a new keeper and a striker of course, so the spending is not over yet and for that reason, it is hard to use the Walsall result as a marker except for individual displays.

But the only question mark lay with keeper Lovre Kalinic who was given a rare game with clubs ready to bid for the now £3millon-rated Croatia stopper. That is the main area for concern with Smith keen to add another proven keeper to his squad before the deadline.

Can Trez live up to namesake?

By Graham Hill

HE has almost two million followers on Twitter, he shares his name with a famous Frenchman – so just who is Villa’s latest signing Trezeguet?

The Egypt winger is the latest player to arrive at Villa Park this summer as Dean Smith’s squad rebuild nears completion.

Trezeguet, 24, has been in Smith’s sights for some time now – but the wrangle over his fee held the deal up.

Turkish side Kasimpara wanted more than £13million – but Villa agreed £8.75million in the end.

The name? That comes from the French footballer David Trezeguet and was given to him by after his former youth coach who noticed similarities between the pair in playing style and appearance.

Trezeguet – real name Mahmoud Hassan – started out with Egyptian side Ahly and was loaned to Anderlecht before joining the Belgians on a permanent basis.

But then he was loaned out again to Mouscron in Belgium and then Kasimpasa before joining the Turkish side where he has scored 25 goals in 71 appearances overt the past two seasons.

Trezeguet is also a regular in the Egypt national side along with Villa full-back Ahmed Elmohamady.

He almost joined Nottingham Forest six years ago and was strongly linked with a move to Celtic who cooled on the deal due to Al-Ahly’s valuation on the player.

But Smith has seen the qualities he wants from the player with the Villa boss clearly putting some emphasis on wide men this season.

Smith told Villa’s official website: “We’re really excited to work with ‘Trez’. I’ve watched him a number of times.

“He’s the type of wide player that we have been looking for who is direct, causes problems for the opposition in the final third and scores goals.”

And Trezeguet admitted he did his homework by quizzing Elmohamady who is Egypt’s captain.

Trezeguet also told Villa’s official website: “Ahmed’s a good friend of mine. He’s like my brother, who I’ve played in the national team with for five years.

“He’s my captain and always speaks with me about Aston Villa, saying it’s an amazing club and that I’d be happy here.

“I asked him a lot of questions. He will help me and believes I will help the team.

“It’ll help having him here with me and I look forward to working with him again. As for joining, I’m happy to be here at one of the biggest clubs around. I hope I can help the team to be successful.”

Will Butland’s patience run out?

By Graham Hill

VILLA’S pursuit of Jack Butland is fast turning into a summer transfer saga.

It became clear some weeks ago that the England keeper is top of the list in terms of searching for a new No1 at Villa Park.

But when Stoke are demanding upwards of £20million – they wanted £10million more a year ago by the way – then the clubs are not going to agree.

Not when Tom Heaton or Neil Etheridge are available for less than half of that sum. Villa clearly value Butland at much less.

You can see Stoke’s point, it would be like Tottenham coming in with an offer of £30million for Jack Grealish.

But Butland is an ambitious player, he wants to be challenging for England honours and he has admitted himself that he cannot do that realistically while playing in the Championship.

Stoke boss Nathan Jones has offered Butland the carrot of a successful Championship campaign and a shot at promotion back to the Premier League this season.

But Butland was promised that last season and Stoke fell away badly.

The question is, now much patience does Butland have? And will Villa eventually give way and pay up?

Stoke are definitely not blinking first in this one, but much depends on how desperate Butland is to get away.

The player himself was talking in terms of leaving at the end of last season, now he is back in the Potteries for pre-season and with the start of the season just a couple of weeks away.

Bournemouth and Crystal Palace are also keen on Butland while Villa have enquired about other keeper targets.

Jones has made his stance clear and told the Stoke Sentinel: “We don’t want Jack to go. Jack’s a Premier League goalkeeper, no two ways about it.

“He’d like to get back there as soon as possible so we could give him that platform, but if there is any suitor for Jack Butland, then they have to pay the value.

“This is not a club that is desperate to sell or needs to sell. This is a club that has the utmost ambition to get back to where it’s been for 10 of the last 11 years.

“If anyone would like Jack Butland, then there’s a value on him. Jack knows that, we know that, clubs know that. There’s been a lot of speculation, which is not good for the player or the club, so if anyone is going to, then come and do it.

“If not, then move on so we can settle down.

“I’ve spoken to Jack, I have a good relationship with him, and he’s an outstanding professional. Nothing has changed.

“Jack’s an international goalkeeper and, for me, as good as there is in England. Jordan Pickford has the England jersey, but Jack’s right there pushing him.

“For Jack to do that, he has to play well and that’s what we will give Jack a platform to do if the value isn’t met.”

Tuanzebe offers Villa little hope

By Graham Hill

VILLA’S hopes of re-signing Axel Tuanzebe on loan from Manchester United look slim after the player was named in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s striating line up for their friendly against Perth in Australia.

Even with Villa boss Dean Smith signing a new central defender in Bjorn Engels, a move for Tuanzebe has not been ruled out.

But the 21 year old appears to have targeted breaking through into the first team at Old Trafford.

His words over the weekend look to be hinting at a season of trying to impress under Solskjaer rather than being a fringe player at United.

Tuanzebe spent a season and a half on loan at Villa Park and was a key figure in the late season play-off push that took Dean Smith’s side into the Premier League.

But the signing of a new three year deal at Old Trafford ended any realistic hopes Villa had of making his loan deal permanent.

And unless Solskjaer moves for a central defender between now and the start of the season, then Tuanzebe will feel he has a real chance to make his mark with Solskjaer.

Tuanzebe’s words to MUTV offered no suggestions of a Villa return – he said: “It’s always a great opportunity, we’ve had a good two weeks of training.

“Manchester has always been my home so to be among the lads again is great, I want to push on and show everyone I’m ready for it.

“Every pre-season is the same for every player to demonstrate they’re ready, I’ve worked hard in the off season to be in this position now.”

Room for Conor and Deadly Doug

By Graham Hill

IF anyone assumed Villa’s move for Manchester City midfielder Douglas Luiz meant Conor Hourihane being sidelined then think again.

Villa’s £15million move for Luiz emerged on Friday with boss Dean Smith looking to boost all areas of his squad ahead of the Premier League season.

With Kalvin Phillips proving difficult to prise away from Leeds, Luiz seemed to be the next option for Villa.

And that means the end of the road for Ireland international Hourihane? Wrong.

Villa announced on Saturday morning that the 28-year-old has signed a new contract.

Hourihane had an up and down season and was not always a fans favourite when Villa struggled last winter.

But he played a huge role in Villa’s jubilant end to the campaign which saw them win promotion.

Hourihane signed two and a half years ago when Steve Bruce was in charge at Villa.

And he told the club’s official website: “I’m absolutely delighted. It’s exciting times for the club with us moving into the Premier League.

“I’ve waited all my career for the opportunity to play at this level and the time has now arrived.

“I’m really looking forward to the season ahead. It’s a big period for me personally as I’ve come all the way from League Two to reach the top.

“I’m glad to sign and look forward to being here for seasons ahead.”

But the arrival of the Brazil Under-23 captain will create more competition at Villa Park.
Luiz’s background is unusual in that he has never played for City and spent the past two seasons on loan at Girona in Italy where he has impressed.

And there are work permit issues to be resolved as he was not granted one last year.

Presumably Villa have been given assurances that will not be the case this time otherwise it would have been pointless even trying to sign the 21-year-old.