Aston Villa are likely to have a limited budget this January transfer window, Simon Bunn suggests that it needs to be spent on experience rather than on the youth policy that Lambert has opted for so far in his Villa reign.
At the time of flying to Australia, for a sweltering Christmas holiday, Villa were in the midst of a promising run of results. They had climbed out of the bottom three and were 5 games undefeated, only conceding 2 goals in the process.
I sat in front of an oversized TV screen, at 2am in the morning, ready to watch Villa take on Liverpool. Inner honesty was telling me that Villa’s run was about to come to an end. 90 minutes later Villa was basking in the glory of a 3-1 win at Anfield. I became too hyperactive to sleep, with the wilder side of my personality even considering getting the Aston Villa crest tattooed across my face.
Claret and blue was fast turning into a trendy colour. Lambert seemed to have found a formation that worked, using wing backs, and his young lions were looking both rigid and threatening. Clarke, Baker and Herd looked tireless, committed and impenetrable at the back, whereas Benteke and Wiemann up front seemed to be producing the kind of understanding that only the likes of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street can possess.
Three incredibly early morning alarm calls later and Villa were staring at three very ugly defeats in a row, defeats that saw a young defence cave in and concede 15 goals with no reply. I considered undergoing laser surgery to remove the face tattoo that I never got. The exciting raw youngsters of games before had suddenly become Villa’s biggest problem.
Villa have somewhat stunted the rot since, with a 2-2 draw at Swansea and a tough 2-1 victory against Ipswich in the F.A Cup on Saturday. As matters stand Villa’s goal difference is embarrassingly the worst in the Premiership and they languish perilously close to the relegation zone. I remain confident that Villa won’t go down but why take the risk? Any football minded person knows that relegation would be a disaster, and irrelevant of being a big club there are no guarantees of bouncing back to the top flight quickly. Simply look at Leeds, Nottingham Forrest and Derby County as examples.
I fully back Lambert’s faith of investing in youth and, as others may have frowned as he scoured the lower leagues for talent at the start of the season, I liked what he was doing. Lowton has been quietly consistent on the right, Westwood has shown enough qualities to suggest that he can be Premiership quality and 21 year old Benteke has been a sensation, easily justifying the ‘Unbelievable Bentekkers’ t-shirts being sold around Villa Park at present. I have absolutely no qualms about Lambert going back to the lower divisions to filter out young talent in the summer, but this January Aston Villa need experience, because ensuring Premiership safety is nothing short of imperative.
Despite owner Randy Lerner selling the Cleveland Browns last October it is thought that the American will be as stringent as ever when handing over to Lambert his transfer kitty. Funds can be raised by the sale of high wage earners such as Bent, Dunne, Warnock, Hutton and even Ireland but, it is still likely that Lmabert will have little to play with. What Villa really need is an experienced Premier league centre back, and a solid holding midfielder than can organise the youngsters around him. Villa favourite and ill fated number 19, Stiliyan Petrov, would have been ideal for the role. So to would have been Lambert in his heyday. Tottenham’s Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone are two names that have recently been touted about. Although probably gettable I don’t think that Huddlestone would do much to help Villa’s cause, I’d happily take Parker but see it as unlikely. In defence childhood Villa Fan Joleon Lescott has been mentioned, which again I’d be content with but see as unlikely. He may also be put off by Holte End chants of ‘Joleon Lescott got hit by a bus’ whenever he has visited Villa Park in recent seasons.
It will be difficult to find a quality experienced Premiership player for sale at a reasonable price in January so loan deals might be the better option. I suspect that Lambert is more likely to turn to Europe for a “cheap experienced” option, but of course the only problem with that tactic is that the “experience” factor is unlikely to consist of Premier League football.
Lambert has recently been quoted as saying “Villa won’t go down,” which to me suggests that he may have some kind of plan to indeed decorate the squad with experience. But whatever happens he needs to find it from somewhere. If Lambert persists with the hot and very cold characteristics of youth, for the second half of the season, the matter of relegation may again be far too close for comfort.
… But in Lambert I still trust.
image: © ell brown