It’s one for the record books, I suppose. A pub quiz question in years to come: who was Aston Villa’s first signing after relegation to the Championship in 2016?
It’s not much of a pub quiz really, is it?
Tommy Elphick’s signing is, as Prince put it, a sign o’ the times. And if that sounds downbeat, there’s an element of that in my demeanour; relegation isn’t fun. There’s the opportunity for hope, and a better hope than survival but being in the top flight is more fun than not being there.
Elphick knows that feeling. A centre back by trade, he made a dozen or so appearances for Bournemouth last season but he wasn’t first choice, injury saw to that. Coming to Villa Park is a calculated risk for him: yes, he’s more likely to get first-team football than at Bournemouth but is sitting on the bench in the Championship better than the same seat in the Premier League?
It’s where Elphick’s major strength lies in my view. He’s been here before with both Brighton and Bournemouth. He knows his way around the lower divisions and with 268 appearances in League One and the Championship, and has the experience to form a solid partnership in the centre of defence.
If that hastens Joleon Lescott’s departure, that’s no bad thing.
More than anything, he knows we have to want to get out of this division. Promotion won’t be easy, we’re not going to blaze a trail at the top of the table all season; getting back into the Premier League is hard work, not a God-given right.
You may think that’s optimistic anyway but with new brooms on and off the pitch, we’ve got to hope anything is possible. I can’t quite believe yet; the evidence which underpins that will come in a month or so – I hope.
Crucially, the manner of Elphick’s transfer is, to me, a signal that he wants to play for Villa. He interrupted his honeymoon to come for a medical, stayed to agree personal terms and is in training. The outward appearance of professionalism is a stark contrast to the shambles which Lescott represents.
He captained Bournemouth to promotion and was an ever-present when the won the Championship; leadership on the pitch was sorely missing last season – he can give us it this season.
It sounds like I think he’s a panacea to all our problems. I don’t think that for a minute but what I do see in him is everything we need right now: professionalism, drive, experience and of course, talent. I can’t say I recall seeing him play but the reports of him suggest a decent centre back and one who is hard-working. That’s all I ask for; effort, endeavour.
We’ve been badly let down by some players with big reputations in the recent past. The shambles in the boardroom reflected in the dismal descent into the Championship. We might have needed that to provoke change. Now we need a new attitude to action that change.
Tommy Elphick may just come to symbolise a new era of graft and hard work. It’s got to be better than being remembered as a pub quiz question, hasn’t it?