Dr Tony Xia is a fervent believer in social media. For football supporters, it’s an unusual situation to be in; we’re used to aloof and detached chairmen, or meglomaniacal managers. We’ve had both at Villa in the past, once or twice at the same time.
It’s a pattern Dr Xia wants to change. In the boardroom and in the dugout, he is determined that his Aston Villa will be remembered as a new beginning, breaking out of the downward spiral the club found itself in and which ultimately culminated in relegation to the Championship.
Appointing Roberto Di Matteo was from the left-field. We saw it coming because of the leaked stories but the Italian wasn’t high on most of our lists to take over this summer. So far, he’s been a breath of fresh air with new players signed without fuss and certainly without the panic which was the hallmark of the recent past. You sense there is a plan behind it all.
Not that the work is finished. He knows that, we know that. And you sense, Dr Xia knows it.
On Twitter earlier this week, he noted:
We have learnt from experience that splashing money&adding players cannot guarantee the success.pls trust RDM &teams know what they need do!
— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) July 21, 2016
Hard work, harsh assessments; tough love.
There are still areas of the squad which can be strengthened. Pierluigi Gollini has made a competent start to his spell at the club but the upcoming friendlies against Nantes tomorrow and then Middlesbrough will tell us more. And crucially, do we have back-up for him.
Brad Guzan was a horror show last season, eventually losing his place to Mark Bunn. Is there a future at Villa Park for him Gollini’s arrival suggests not. But we have to look honestly and wonder if Bunn is the answer as well? Coming into a doomed side is never easy so judgement on last season’s showings may be harsh. He certainly seems to have fewer errors in him than Guzan but he is far from perfect.
At the other end of the pitch, goals are always a concern. We have in Ayew and Gestede players who can score at this level – perhaps Kozak as well since he’s nabbed a couple in pre-season – but if they don’t, our answer is Gabby Agbonlahor. It’s a frightening proposition for a club with promotion aspirations.
Those two areas are the key factors now. The transfer window is in full flow and we have six weeks or so left for pemanent signings, a little longer for loan deals. Maybe that is the answer but before anyone new arrives, there’s the suspicion that we’ve got to sell or cut the wage bill at the very least.
Carlos Gil has joined Deportivo La Coruña on loan which is an unsurprising start but there are others. A thirty-odd player squad is bigger than we need a little top heavy on youth. We face losing the ‘bigger’ names and I can handle that; if they don’t want to stay, we get players in who have the stomach for the battle.
But it’s quality we need. Dr Xia believes Di Matteo and the players have the quality. In a fortnight’s time, they have to start delivering.
The squad is almost there but that’s a familiar story. And a piece of history we don’t want to be repeating.