Villa to match Wolves…eventually

COMMENT By Graham Hill

JOHN McGinn last week admitted he hopes Villa can emulate Wolves in the Premier League next season – but how strong is that comparison?

Villa will return to the elite with high hopes of making a real impression on the top flight again.

Despite the problems of recent years under ex-owner Randy Lerner, it is worth remembering that Villa were considered top six regulars until 2010.

Much has changed since then, but the strength of the club – in the right hands – means they have the capability to hit the heights once more.

It is only a decade ago that Villa were talking of being a top four side. Ten years is a long time in terms of the Premier League though – and anyone expecting an immediate challenge to the dominance of the top six may be disappointed.

This could be a long term project.

For a start, there is a queue of clubs looking to break into the supposed monopoly of ‘big’ clubs.

Wolves are one and Leicester – former Champions – are another.

Villa will aim to gatecrash that group, but it may not be next season.

Midfielder McGinn’s comments were made after seeing Wolves win promotion, then finish seventh in the table and qualify for the Europa League.

They did that with major backing from China – the sort Villa now have in the shape of Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris.

But it is worth remembering that Wolves barely changed their Championship title winning squad last summer – except for a few key additions such as Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez.

Their core was a solid one and they had already top-rated players such as Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota on board as well as a defence that stayed settled through the transition from second tier to top flight.

Villa boss Dean Smith faces a different challenge. Yes, he has Jack Grealish and John McGinn to build a new side around.

But many of the key players from this season were on loan or have been released with a new, younger breed of player being targeted.

Smith will bring some of those loan players back on permanent deals, but he also has fresh faces in mind and they will need to gel quickly – especially up front – and the Premier League will not wait for that to happen.

Wolves may have impressed but even they suffered defeats to some of the top flight’s weaker sides.

They flourished against the stronger teams who allowed them more space.

And Grealish should delight in the new found space he will get instead of being targeted and kicked by Championship rivals desperately trying – and generally failing – to stop him playing his regular game.

A season of consolidation would be no bad thing for Villa, but with the wealth they now have, it will not be too many years before they are matching Wolves’s ambitions.

All not as it seems for McCormack

By Graham Hill

ROSS McCormack’s Villa spell is a sorry tale in more ways than one after the Scottish striker reached an agreement to leave the club.

It sums up the modern game when Villa have to work out an arrangement to end a player’s contract rather than wonder what to do with him for the remaining 12 months of his deal.

Had McCormack stayed, he would have been in line for a huge pay rise as part of Villa’s promotion.

And having noted the divisions the Villa dressing room when they were relegated three years ago, boss Dean Smith was not about to let that happen again.

Plus, who would want to take McCornack, 32, on loan after a less than impressive impact at Motherwell?

But before you start criticising the player, it is worth noting that he has had his share of off the field problems.

All is not quite what it seems.

But the now infamous ‘Gate-gate’ incident when former Villa boss Steve Bruce revealed McCormack had been dropped for a match against Preston because his front gates were iced up and he could not get his car out, proved to be the tip of the iceberg.

There was clearly an attitude problem.

But let us not forget that it was Villa’s previous regime that agreed to such a contract which meant the player was allowed to bleed money out of the club – and he has not been the only one doing that.

McCormack cost Villa £12million – yes, it really happened – when he signed for Roberto di Matteo from Fulam three years ago.

Which means he cost on average £500,000 a game as he appeared just 24 times.

It was a move that should never have happened, but Smith is clearly not prepared to have any bad eggs hanging around when Villa return to the Premier League. We all saw what happened the last time that situation was allowed to get out of control.

Dean turns the tables on Blues

By Graham Hill

DEAN Smith has completed his first deal of the summer – and it has divided some Villa fans.

But, in reality, the boot is now on the other foot for former Brentford boss Smith!

Jota arrived at Birmingham City a little under two years ago as part of Blues’ drive for promotion.

And while the Spaniard was one of the club’s top players, that dream of the Premier League never quite happened.

Jota arrived on big wages and with boss Harry Redknapp aiming for the top.

But it all went wrong, Redknapp was sacked and Blues spiralled into financial problems which eventually saw them deducted nine points last season.

Turns out Smith had a reunion with the player on his mind all along though.

Redknapp raided Smith’s Brentford for the likes of Jota and defender Harlee Dean.

But now the tables have turned with Smith able to reunite with the winger who was one of his most impressive performers at Griffin Park.

Some Villa fans may not take kindly to a Birmingham player arriving amid all the talk of big spending from owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris.

But clearly, this move was high on Smith’s wish list and there could be another reunion if he can bring highly rated 22-year-old striker Neal Maupay to Villa Park.

The deal seems to suit Blues who also get midfielder Gary Gardner as part of the deal. Garry Monk appears to be staging his own rebuild at St Andrew’s and Jota was clearly happy to make a move to the top flight which was probably where he felt he should have been a year ago.

It promises to be an exciting month at Villa with new signings clearly in place despite the shortened gap between the end of last season and the start of the new Premier League campaign.

Expect Maupay to arrive with Tyrone Mings expected to seal his permanent move to Villa now that he has deleted the words ‘footballer for Bournemouth’ from his social media account. A deal taking Anwar El Ghazi from Lille to Villa is probably not far away either.

Harsh reality for Albert and Hutts

By Graham Hill

WHEN Albert Adomah stared into the TV camera and shouted ‘We are going up!’ – you kind of suspected he would not be following his team-mates into the Premier League.

And that is one of the harsh realities of football.

A valued and popular character, Adomah has brought much to Villa Park since he was signed by Roberto di Matteo three years ago.

And few will forget his handstand goal celebrations.

But, in an ironic way, Villa’s win over Derby sealed Adomah’s future.

In the Championship, the 31-year-old winger might have had half a chance of earning a new Villa contract.

But Villa are shooting for the stars now and have money to spend. Boss Dean Smith is moving on and Adomah is one of the casualties.

However, a player like that is certain to find another club and he will doubtless continue his career in the Championship. He scored four times this season, and his final one came in the controversial clash at Leeds when Adomah was ‘gifted’ an equaliser by Marcelo Bielsa.

Another player on his way out is Tommy Elphick and, again, there is another harsh fact of the football world that counted against the ex-Bournemouth defender.

Elphick was recalled from his loan spell at Hull by Smith – but just as Villa’s 10-match winning run began against Derby in March, he got injured and missed a large chunk of the run-in

Again, with his contract coming to an end, it is doubtful whether Elphick would have been hired for a Premier League campaign. But he was denied the chance to stake a real claim.

Elphick, also 31, will look to stay in the Championship to further his career.

It is all a far cry from three years ago when he was club captain. But ex-manager Steve Bruce sent him out on loan and Elphick will be remembered as a player who earned huge respect in the dressing room but was hindered by injuries on the field.

Fans favourite Alan Hutton, 34, has also been released by Villa after an up and down eight year career which once saw him exiled from the first team because he was earning too much money!

Former owner Randy Lerner wanted the wage bill cutting and so managers such as Paul Lambert could not play Hutton.

Loaned out to the likes of Real Mallorca, Bolton and Nottingham Forest, Hutton revived his Villa career and was given the nickname ‘Scottsh Cafu’ by Holte Enders.

Yet he has responded to his release on Instagram by posting: ‘This club will forever be in my heart #utv’.

And he will always have cult status among Villa fans for his spectacular goal against Blues this season. As one fan put it on Twitter, ‘It’s no surprise to see Hutton go, so why do I feel like crying?’

Villa, why it’ll be different this time

COMMENT By Graham Hill

VILLA are heading back to the Premier League – but how do they avoid ‘doing a Fulham’?

The wealth and budget at manager Dean Smith’s disposal is similar to the money Slavisa Jokanovic was handed by Craven Cottage owner Shahid Khan 12 months ago.

And Fulham spent an incredible £100million to try and make sure they stayed up.

But despite having a side containing supposed stars of the future, they could not get it right and had three separate managers in a season which saw them head straight back down to the Championship.

The Wembley Play-off winners are notorious for getting to the Premier League and struggling to stay there.

Why should Villa be any different? How can they be more like Wolves who moved into the top flight effortlessly?

It can and should be done judging by the events of the last few months.

Just take a look at the structure at Villa Park and see how it has changed from the nightmare season of 2015-2016.

Back then, Villa were owned by an increasingly disinterested owner in Randy Lerner.

He was actively looking to sell the club but by the time he did – to Tony Xia – the club had been relegated.

The dressing room at the time did them no favours. The most senior players were the ones who were most disruptive. If that was the message seeping down from the players who were supposed to be setting an example then no wonder Villa went down.

Can you really see Tyrone Mings – assuming he signs permanently – letting that happen.
Jack Grealish, who allowed himself to get caught up in the playboy lifestyle promoted by some other players, is a changed man and, as captain of the team, has gained an admirable aura of responsibility.

Admittedly, there was some talk of splits in the camp before Grealish’s return, but boss Dean Smith, whose credibility cannot be doubted any more by those who said Villa was too big a job for him, showed he is a brilliant man manager.

The choice of manager by owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris, and chief executive Christian Purslow, showed that you do not need to appoint a ‘sexy’ name get success.

They looked at Thierry Henry and Brendan Rodgers before turning to Smith.

And it proved to be the right – if not their first – choice.

But back to the ownership. Lerner clearly did not care if Villa went down or not, his initial vision of buying his way into the Champions League disappeared amid a row with ex-manager Martin O’Neill.

Villa became an expensive hassle for him and once O’Neill had gone, he was left with a huge wage bill and a desire to dump the club as soon as possible.

Managers came and went with reputations in tatters, Paul Lambert, Tim Sherwood, Remi Garde. There was only one outcome.

Xia proved little better, appointing Roberto di Matteo after the previous regime had recommended Nigel Pearson – and then Steve Bruce who was under immediate pressure to win promotion.

And when that did not happen 12 months ago, it became obvious that Chinese businessman Xia had done the equivalent of staking his house on the 3.30 at Ascot.

Which is where Edens and Sawiris come in. Bruce was a casualty of an early slump in results but the club now appear to be on an even keel again – and guaranteed the riches of both their owners and the £170millon worth of TV money.

The Premier League has changed since Villa were last there. When they went down, Leicester City were winning the title!

And that means the top six are stronger than ever with even the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal struggling for Champions League places.

Teams like Leicester, Wolves, Everton and, if they have a new buyer, Newcastle will also make life difficult.

But if Villa can keep Grealish, sign Mings, bag a top new striker if Tammy Abraham returns to Chelsea and make careful new improvements to the squad, they can not only stay up, but flourish.

That is clearly the owners’ aim, they know that a long stay in the top flight will see a huge return on their investment and, hopefully, translate into success on the field.

Mings move is tip of the iceberg

By Graham Hill

IT is good to see that Villa have taken the first tentative steps to try and secure Tyrone Mings to the club for next season IF they are promoted.

Nothing cocky or over-confident about that, it makes sense to sound the player out to see if he would be open to a move to Villa Park.

I would guess the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’.

But it would only happen if Villa were to beat Derby at Wembley next month to seal a return to the Premier League,

And it highlights the fact that there is so much than promotion riding on the Championship final.

Lose, and Villa can forget about signing Mings from Bournemouth.

Add to that the fact that they would lost Jack Grealish, John McGinn and Tammy Abraham – who will probably be back at Chelsea next season anyway.

Anwar El Ghazi is unlikely to stick around for another season in the Championship while Conor Hourihane will also have attracted some attention during Villa’s play-off charge.

Defeat would mean a total rebuild and having to stick within FFP regulations. It would not be pleasant but Smith clearly has a ‘Plan B’ if Villa must face a fourth successive season in the second tier.

But Villa will be favourites at Wembley and will already be drawing up a ‘Plan A’ if things go as they want them to.

Mings has made himself a fans’ favourite during his loan spell at Villa Park and it would surely suit everyone if he were to make his move permanent.

But as McGinn told Sky Sports after the semi-final win over West Brom on Tuesday: “I don’t know how he doesn’t get a game for Bournemouth!”

If talks are under way, that is great news. They will be abandoned if Villa fail to beat Frank Lampard’s side – but can get under way in earnest with a victory.

All of which raises the question of how much money Villa’s new owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris are prepared to spend if they go up.

They bought the club with one eye on the Premier League – and you would like to think that enough cash would be available to make sure Villa stay there.

Sensibly, the new backers have not said where they intend to see Villa in five years’ time. Tony Xia’s vision of ‘European champions’ now looks more than a little premature.

But with the intention to make a play for Mings clear under way, the future looks bright. Just need Villa to win at Wembley now!

‘Gareth: Bang a gong for Grealish’

THE Sunday People’s NEIL MOXLEY has had his say on Jack Grealish and England, and reckons Gareth Southgate is missing a trick when it comes to not picking the Villa skipper

GARETH Southgate has breathed new life into England – but his logic is flawed over Jack Grealish.

The Three Lions’ chief is heavily in credit with the country and has been recognised for England’s run in the World Cup with a gong.

But it really should be beating for Aston Villa’s enigmatic star who has finally come of age.

It’s difficult to understand why there is now such resistance to Grealish – he needs to be given an international platform to showcase his talents.

Why so?

Well, while the eyes of the country were feasting on a Champions League clash at Old Trafford that ended up being about as palatable as a plate of cold beans on toast, the 23-year-old was leading his club into the play-off mix with a goal at Rotherham that underlined his talents as a player with serious talent.

Watch it on Youtube, bring it up on your social media feed – where you see the strike is irrelevant.

Just take a long look at it – and then close your eyes…imagine if Dele Alli had come up with the same. Or Raheem Sterling.

It’s difficult to think of too many other players who actually have the skill to pull off that kind of move.

Once you’ve seen the footage from that goal, bring up his strike on the volley from a corner against Derby County from a few weeks ago.

And try telling me this lad isn’t a player.

For those who missed it, Southgate’s reasoning for omitting Grealish from the last fixtures was as follows.

“When the evidence of the of an opponent is at a different level, that’s where it’s hard to directly correlate what it is going to look like at a level above,” he said.

That was manager-speak for: He’s not playing in the Premier League.

England’s boss continued.

“With Callum Hudson-Odoi, he’s playing in the Europa League, he’s playing in the Premier League, that does make a difference.”

So the fact it was ‘only’ a Championship fixture doesn’t carry weight in Southgate’s eyes.

Grealish has been made Villa’s skipper – make no mistake, this is one of the country’s top one dozen football clubs – at the age of 23.

At the same stage of his own career, Southgate himself hadn’t actually been transferred there, let alone been given the armband.

Additionally, Grealish has played in the top-flight, even though it was in a shambolic side that was heading for the trapdoor in spectacular fashion.

Furthermore, the Europa League is not as taxing as England’s boss is making out. Both Chelsea and Arsenal have progressed without too much fuss to the last eight. Both won their quarter-final ties this week to nil.

It has also to be remembered that Hudson-Odoi made his first start for England before he had made his full league debut for Chelsea.

And as if any more evidence was needed, Chelsea’s Mason Mount – on loan at Derby County – has also received a call-up, despite the fact he was playing in the second tier.

Finally, Grealish’s response to being punched by a moronic punter during the Second City derby was to dust himself down and score the winner.

That takes some bottle. And grounding. And skill.

Much as there is to admire about the manner in which England’s boss has approached the job – with maturity, common sense and bravery – he needs to re-sharpen his focus and think again.

Southgate deserves all the praise that comes his way after taking a chance on the kids – but he is seriously missing a trick as far as Jack Grealish is concerned.

*This column first appeared in The People, on Sunday, April 14

Steer has stepped out of shadows

COMMENT, By Graham Hill

THERE have been plenty of individual stars emerging during Villa’s sudden rise to being play-off candidates.

A seven match unbeaten run – including six wins in a row – make Villa one of the form teams in the Championship right now.

You would probably include leaders Norwich and fellow top six rivals Bristol City in that.

But there is no doubt that Villa have suddenly clicked.

Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Tammy Abraham – these are the names that spring to mind.

But no-one else should be forgotten in all of this. Particularly the man who has stepped out of the shadows to play his part.

Jed Steer has been at Villa Park now for six years. Yes, six.

He followed former boss Paul Lambert to Villa when he became a free agent at Carrow Road.

And, until now, he has stayed under the radar.

In fact, had circumstances been different, he would have been looking for a different kind of play-off bid – with Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic.

Steer was in goal for the Addicks and helping them to a top six finish in League One.

But when Norway keeper Orjan Nyland was ruled out for the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles, Steer was recalled.

It looked like the 26-year-old would be warming the bench for the rest of this season.

After all, Villa had just spent £6million on Croatia keeper Lovre Kalinic.
But once Kalinic suffered a head injury in the defeat to West Brom, Steer has proved tough to dislodge.

After a Villa career which has seen him go out on loan to Doncaster, Yeovil and Huddersfield as well as Charlton, Steer was in no mood to waste the chance he had been given.

And since then, Steer has conceded four goals in those seven unbeaten starts.

Boss Dean Smith rewarded him with an extra year’s contract and Steer has responded.

His role as unlikely hero was crowned last Saturday at Hillsborough when he saved Steven Fletcher’s penalty and provide the base for another Villa win.

Looks like his loan days could be over for now. And whatever you might think of Lambert’s reign as Villa boss, Steer is a welcome leftover from those days.

JPA and Laursen echo better days

By Graham Hill

SEEING Juan Pablo Angel and Martin Laursen back at Villa Park for the Blackburn game brings some great memories flooding back.

The impressive duo were part of a team that was a seemingly permanent fixture in the Premier League.

It is ironic that they are watching a game in the Championship – something that did not when they were at Villa.

Angel was a record signing for Villa at the time when he signed from River Plate for £9.5million.

It was by no means a smooth deal, and looked like it had been called off on more than one occasion.

I remember speaking to an Argentinian journalist late one Saturday night un January 2001 when I worked on the Sunday Mercury newspaper.

He phoned to say the deal was back on again at the South American end.

Villa officials said they had not been told this. This was pretty much before new leaked out online from all corners of the world.

We decided to run with the story and, in the days that followed, Angel flew to England to seal the deal.

Angel became a firm favourite for John Gregory’s side, scoring 62 goals in 205 appearances.

Few will forget his spectacular goal against Chelsea in the League Cup tie at Villa Park in December 2003.

The Colombian left on 2007 to join New York Red Bulls.

Denmark defender Laursen was signed from AC Milan by David OLeary in a £3million deal.

He struggled with injury problems to start with, but then made 91 appearances and scored 11 goals as well as becoming Villa captain, winning Supporters Player of the Year and scoring a a headed goal against Ajax in a 2-1 home win.

Laursen was there when the late Doug Ellis sold the club to Randy Lerner and also played under Martin O’Neill before leaving Villa 10 years ago.

Villa co-owner’s wealth revealed

GRAHAM HILL takes look at how much Villa chief Nassef Sawiris is really worth – and why he pays attention to gold and Donald Trump

VILLA co-owner Nassef Sawiris has been ranked at 230 on Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.

And is brother Naguib is not far behind at 334.

They are two of only six Africans on the list.

Nassef, aged 58, is currently worth an eye-watering $6.76 billion (£5.1billion) while Naguib, 63, is valued at $5billion.

The Index is calculated by ranking s the world’s richest people based on their personal wealth based on changes in the markets and the economy.

The net worth of each individual is calculated at the end of each business day, and all valuations are converted to US dollars as per the exchange rate on the day.

“Closely held companies are valued in several ways, such as by comparing the enterprise value-to-Ebitda or price-to-earnings ratios of similar public companies or by using comparable transactions,” according to Bloomberg.

“The criteria used to choose peer companies is based on the closely held asset’s industry and size.”

The Egypt Today website reported that the older Sawiris saw a decline in his fortune by 0.89 percent year-on-year, while the Ness’s north Sawiris almost doubled.

Naguib Sawiris, according to Forbes Magazine, has about US 2.7 billion in March 2018. However, he saw an 85 percent increase in his fortune after he converted all of his current assets to gold.

In a July 2018 interview with Bloomberg, the Villa part-owner, who made most of his money by investing in the telecom sector in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh and North Korea, revealed that he has put half of his $5.7 billion net worth into gold.

Explaining is decision, Sawiris explained that gold is always a good investment during crises times as it secures the value of money.

Gold is also a particularly good investment right now as it is expected to increase in value from just above $1,300 per ounce to $1,800, according to the Egyptian businessman.

“People also tend to go to gold during crises and we are full of crises right now. Look at the Middle East and the rest of the world – and Mr. Trump doesn’t help,” Sawiris said.