There is no denying that Roberto Di Matteo faces a mammoth task in reshaping the current first team squad which he has inherited. The Italian has already identified that the current squad is too big and will wait until he assesses his team of players at the pre season training camp in Austria, before deciding who will remain a part of his future plans.
One thing for sure is that Di Matteo will be looking to make some of his own additions to the squad. Here we identify five players that Di Matteo should look towards bringing to Villa Park this summer.
The 35 year old recently saw his nineteen year association with Everton brought to an end following his release at the end of his contract. Osman amassed over 350 Premier League appearances in his time at Goodison Park, scoring 43 goals. His final season in an Everton shirt only brought about nine league appearances which was a sad end to what had been a career long contribution to The Toffees.
Osman’s age may be a cause of concern for some but the experience that he possesses could be invaluable. The removal of Osman as a regular in the Everton team was by in large due to a change of manager, with Roberto Martinez preferring Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in the midfield picking.
It’s unfair to simply look at Osman’s age as a singular factor against him. Osman does not have a history of picking up injuries and the fact that he is now a free agent makes the move very risk free on Villa’s part. A short term deal may very well suit both parties. Having such an experienced head in the dressing room could be invaluable.
With Stiliyian Petrov now training with the first team during pre season and eager to make a playing return, it raises a valid question. If a 36 year old, who has not played for over three years is seriously going to be considered by the club, then why would a still active player, regardless of his age, not be? Supporters may look to the signings in recent years of Robert Pires and Joe Cole and argue that both players contributed very little on the field of play.
Many players have since insisted that both had a massive contribution on the training field and at times their input went unappreciated. The Championship is a whole different animal to the Premier League. Physical as it may be, it certainly is not as fast paced as the elite league in England. The main attraction to this deal is that it would be short term and cost Villa very little in finances due to the player being a free agent. This seems to prevent very little risk in the grand scheme of things.
The Irish winger was recently relegated with Norwich City to the Championship. Currently representing his national side at Euro 2016, Brady has comfortably operated in midfield and at left back throughout his career. Brady spent two years on loan at Hull City in the Championship before making the move permanent in 2013. A further two successful years at the KCOM Stadium followed before switching to Carrow Road at the start of the 2015-16 season.
The Irishman may have suffered to consecutive relegations in his career but his performances have been a standout during both campaigns. His most recent campaign saw Brady make 36 league appearances, scoring three times and producing two assists. Brady has been noted for his attacking threat from out wide and ability from dead ball situations.
Despite a disappointing end to the campaign for Norwich, Brady was a part of the successful Ireland qualification for the European Championships. To date, Brady has featured in all of Irelands group games and wrote his name in Irish football history with the decisive winning goal against Italy which secured Irelands place in the last 16.
In recent seasons, the left hand side of the Villa team, most notably the left back position, has been a real cause for concern. The early stages of Jordan Amavi’s life at Villa Park seemed to suggest that this was a problem solved but injury curtailed his promising start. Amavi is back in training and rumours ring large that some of Europe’s top sides are interested in making a move.
The uncertainty over the Frenchman’s future makes the left back position a problem area once more. Aly Cissokho has never impressed in the position, Joe Bennett has returned to the club and waits to see if he is a part of Di Matteo’s plans, whilst both Kieran Richardson and Lewis Kinsella have recently been released by the club.
Brady presents someone who can play in a variety of position and his attacking style of play could make him an attractive proposition for Di Matteo. Villa will want competition for Amavi and may unfortunately be even seeking a replacement for the Frenchman. Brady may believe his future lies in the Premier League but with his immediate future belonging in the Championship, Villa may be able to convince the Irishman that a switch to Villa Park may be his quickest route back to the Premier League. It would certainly prove to be a shrewd piece of business by Di Matteo and show the clubs ambition in recruiting players aimed towards promotion.
The Scotsman continued his impressive form for Fulham during the 2015-16 season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions. Only Burnley’s Andre Gray managed to score more goals during the Championship campaign.
McCormack has reached double figures in four of the last five seasons in the Championship and has become regarded as one of the leagues deadliest finishers. An £11 million transfer to Fulham in 2014 raised some eyebrows but McCormack has continued to flourish in a side which has ultimately struggled during his time at the club. At 29 years of age, McCormack will be considering his options has he enters the next stage of his career.
An out and out goal scorer can make all the difference in a successful promotion push. In recent years, Villa have seen the benefit of having a regular goalscorer in the shape of Cristian Benteke when the club has been fighting against relegation. Now they long for a man who is going to lead the clubs push at the right end of a league table.
Rudy Gestede has experience success in front of goal in the past at this level and it is hope the Benin International can re capture his goal scoring form. A partnership of both McCormack and Gestede would see Villa have arguably one of the most formidable strike partnerships in the league. Goals proved to be a real issue last season but McCormack has had no problems in this department.
A move for McCormack may prove expensive as Fulham would wish to recoup most of the big fee they paid to Leeds United only two years ago. McCormack may very well prove to be the most expensive player on this list but Villa have to show ambition and Di Matteo has already expressed the importance of having players capable at this level. McCormack has been able to prove this time and time again in a side that has generally speaking, found life tough in the division.
There will surely be plenty of suitors after McCormack’s services next season but if Villa were able to convince the Scotsman that B6 was the right place to be then it would present a real statement of intent and be a very positive signing.
The Chelsea front man has spent the past four seasons on loan at MK Dons, Derby County, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Norwich City respectively. Still awaiting his first team debut at Stamford Bridge, Bamford had his most fruitful period on loan to Middlesbrough during their 2014-15 season Championship campaign.
A total of 17 league goals was an impressive return and was a big reason behind Middlesbrough reaching the Play off Final. Sadly it was a step too far and the club would lose to Norwich City, who Bamford would go onto represent the following year.
Last season saw Bamford make his Premier League bow with time spent out on loan at both Crystal Palace and Norwich City. The initial loan move to Crystal Palace was scheduled to be for the duration of the season but Bamford struggled to force his way into the side and after only six league appearances, Palace boss Alan Pardew decided to cut short the agreement.
Bamford did not have to wait long for his next move and was quickly snapped up by Norwich City. Signed with the aim of helping preserve Norwich’s Premier League status, Bamford’s spell at Carrow Road proved to be more frustrating as two appearances and no goals brought an end to a very disappointing campaign. The two loan moves saw Bamford fail to get on the score sheet and question marks were raised about his credentials as a Premier League player.
Having come off such a below par Premier League campaign many eye brows will be raised as to why Bamford would be a suitable target. Whilst life in the Premier League has not worked out to date, Bamford proved during his time at Middlesbrough that he has all the credentials to be a force in the Championship.
Bamford is a talented footballer who has scored a variety of goals. Able to score with both feet and his head, the 17 goals scored for Middlesbrough showed that when confidence is high, Bamford can be a deadly finisher. Let’s not forget that this run of form coincided with a side that were performing well at the top end of the league. Bamford is still only 22 years of age, so his development as a striker has a long way to go. Barren spells in front of goal and a lack of confidence can striker any player at any time so supporters should not be concerned by Bamford’s time at Crystal Palace and Norwich.
The loan moves show a player who is willing to prove himself at the top. Whilst the Premier League stints did not work out, it showed a player who believed in his abilities and wanted to test himself at the highest level. The Championship for now could be the perfect platform for Bamford to recapture his form and if he was able to replicate any of his previous form at Middelsborough, then Villa could have a valuable player on their hands who could aide a promotion push. Bamford has a point to prove and Villa’s need for new blood up front could be a case of right place, right time for Bamford.
If Bamford is able to cement a promotion back to the Premier League, then he may very well have the chance to prove himself in the Premier League once more. That is where Villa long to return as well, so this could be a perfect partnership. A loan move is the most likely occurrence but again this would be a risk free move for Villa.
Repeatedly linked with a move to Villa Park, the third striker and final player on our list is Dwight Gayle. Despite injury troubles and struggling to hold down a regular place in the side, Dwight Gayle has been Crystal Palaces top goal scorer in all competition for the last three seasons. Gayle has come a long way since playing for Bishop Stortford in the Conference North back in the 2011-12 season.
Moves to League Two Dagenham & Redbridge and then Championship side Peterborough United, would see the striker continue to score as he made his way up the leagues. His performances were generating plenty of interest and it was enough for Crystal Palace to sign the striker for a then club record £4.5 million.
A return of 25 goals from 74 appearances in all competitions is a respectable amount for any striker. Gayle has found regular first team football hard to come by which makes his goal return all the more impressive. Noted for his hard work, raw pace and energy, Gayle has proven that he has an eye for goal and on his day is a real handful.
At 25 years of age, Gayle is another player at a pivotal moment in his career. A player of his ability is in desperate need of regular firs team action. Gayle continues to have potential suitors and a potential move to Bristol City during the January transfer window broke down at the last minute.
Crystal Palace may understandably want to see a good return on the fee they paid for Gayle but to sign a goal scoring Premier League striker would surely present good business for Aston Villa. The traits which are attributed to Gayle are something which Villa has desperately been lacking in for some time. Gayle now needs to be somewhere that he can become the main man; the focal point of a team’s attacking threat.
It seems that Gayle does not feature in Alan Pardew’s future plans and this could present a very realistic transfer option for Di Matteo.
Villa has been starved of a direct approach up front for some time. Jordan Ayew has impressed on occasion but cannot be called upon alone. The attacking option is something which Villa needs to improve. The lack of goals in the side since the departure of Cristian Benteke has been alarming and a grave cause for concern. There is no guarantee any of the current crop of players will remain at Villa Park so a fresh, hungry and talented front line is something which Di Matteo desperately needs.
Along with Patrick Bamford, Dwight Gayle arguably has a point to prove and is another young striker with plenty of potential and development ahead of him. It could be an interesting move and one the club may seek to make permanent
By no means are the names on this list going to make Villa the finished article and with three strikers on the list, it would require a lot of chopping and changing to the current squad. The five players identified cover an array of qualities which Villa will require in order to have any chance of a successful promotion push.
Experience, at any level of the game is vitally important and not only does this list of players have plenty of experience; most importantly they have experience of life in the Championship. It is a long and arduous campaign in the Championship and Villa would be foolish to not spend this summer sensibly re building the squad. Ideally, Villa would get most of the business done early on in order for the new players to settle in and become accustom to the style of play which Di Matteo wants to instil.
Many of the names on this list will have a host of potential suitors longing to secure their signatures. Arguably the most ambitious target of the lot would be Robbie Brady, following his recent performances at Euro 2016. A coup of this magnitude would really show a signal of intent of Villa that they really mean business. Ross McCormack is another who falls into that category and someone who has arguably been one of the best players in the Championship over the last two seasons.
Leon Osman would be a seasoned pro who younger players would thrive upon working alongside. Villa’s recruitment of such players in recent times has been more disastrous than it has been successful but this should not deter a pursuit of a player who still has real quality to his game.
Patrick Bamford and Dwight Gayle are exciting prospects who have plenty to prove. Frustrated by their lack of regular football, Aston Villa could present the very place to get their careers back on track.
As the summer progresses and the transferrumours.co.uk become full swing, Villa will undoubtedly be linked to a host of players in all areas of play. Di Matteo faces a big rebuilding job and the sooner decisions are made on the future of his current squad, the quicker the players he wishes to sign can be sourced and brought in.
These five players could potentially be the first pieces of the jigsaw towards Villa’s long road back to the Premier League.