After taking the reigns at Villa Park this time last year, Lambert has had a distinctly multifarious time, from coming far to close for comfort to relegation, to playing some innovative attacking football which ultimately saved them from the drop. All this with the youngest starting XI in the Premier League.
The trend towards youth looks set to continue. As veterans such as Shay Given and Darren Bent are expected to be shipped out, Lambert has gone about a lot of his business early, getting in more youthful players to complement what he already has.
He has thus far signed the Danish pair of Nicklas Helenius and Jores Okore who are both full internationals, Bulgarian international Aleksandar Tonev, Dutch under-21 international Leandro Bacuna and Spanish under-20 international Antonio Luna. And the latest is England under-19 goalkeeper Jed Steer from his former club Norwich.
None are household names, as of yet, but young, hungry players signed to improve and to take the club forward, and also provide value for money. It’s a philosophy which has worked well with Christian Benteke, but flooding your first team squad with so many youngsters is always a gamble.
If, as anticipated Given and Bent do depart, Brad Guzan, Ron Vlaar and Karim El Ahmadi will be the only players over the age of 28, and the vast majority of the rest of the squad being under 24. It may be that with the youngsters now signed up, Lambert turns his attention to getting a few older heads in to complement the young talent.
How much of a gamble for Villa is this strategy though? It is possible that another season of struggling at the wrong end of the table could do more harm than good to a younger squad. In this day and age however, especially with the spectre of financial fair play on the horizon, it makes sense for a club to not be splashing out Darren Bent size sums on transfer fees if there are viable alternatives available.
Not many had heard of Benteke when he moved from Genk prior to last season, and as a yardstick of signing relatively unheralded players he is a fine example. The balancing act which Lerner and Lambert are trying to achieve is a high risk strategy.
One of the factors in getting the fans to return to Villa Park, and buy the season tickets is going to be the feelgood factor, which was sorely lacking under Alex McLeish, and it is coming back via what is being done though the close season.
At the end of the last season, positivity was starting to come back to the club, and the way the side played in the final couple of months will have made the Villa Park faithful wish the season could have continued for a few more weeks.
At the same time, there is no doubt that while the activity in the transfer market so far is a positive, a household name or two wouldn’t have gone a miss. Have what Lambert and Lerner brought to Villa Park so far excited the fans enough to fill the empty seats which have been so prevalent in the Holte End on occasion for the last few seasons?
The jury is very much still out. It is a step into the unknown for Villa, and what they are attempting to do will make fascinating watching over the coming months. If the end of last season is anything to go by, the new players blend and the footballing philosophy in which Lambert is becoming known for bears fruit, then Villa Park could be one of the most exciting grounds to watch the Premier League in next season.
On the other hand, if it doesn’t click, and the experience and know how of other more seasoned sides dismantle the youngsters as happened on a couple of occasions last year, how much time will the fans give Lambert to get it right? In turn, how much time with Lerner give Lambert, and will he stand by him?
After all, it was after a match at Villa Park where an unwitting pundit proclaimed that “you can’t win anything with kids”. Lambert is looking to put this theory acutely to the test.
image: © ellbrown