Tim Sherwood has lost Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph this summer
27 July ~ “I feel sorry for Tim Sherwood,” said Aston Villa legend and now football expert Andy Gray on Talksport, “he’s lost his best player, Delph, his best striker, Benteke, and it looks like his best defender, Vlaar, won’t be fit for the start of the season.” Ron Vlaar isn’t actually a Villa player any more, out of contract at the end of last season, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story.
Once upon a time, the first you heard of a transfer deal was when it was done. “My Christmas present to the fans,” said Ron Saunders as he announced the signing of Dennis Mortimer, out of the blue from Coventry, who went on to captain the club to League and European Cup glory. But now, of course, especially in a summer when there’s been no competitive senior football and the media have space and airtime to fill before and during the window, transfers and speculation about them reaches a pitch of hysteria. Hence the moves of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke were heralded long before they happened, or didn’t then did again, so poor Villa fans have had to bear the pain as their outlook on next season changes.
Selling the club’s best players is nothing new: Gray himself, to Wolves for £1.469 million (the figure still springs easily to mind, as does the 76,588 ground record crowd against Derby and the 48,110 who watched a Division Three match against Bournemouth); then John Gidman, Colin Gibson, Dwight Yorke, Ashley Young, Gareth Barry (whose “Judas” tag has now been usurped by Delph), James Milner and Stewart Downing have all moved onwards and seemingly upwards over the years.
But Tim Sherwood had his eyes open when he took on the challenge and certainly succeeded in the first phase, surviving relegation (albeit only just) and taking the club to Wembley twice, though we won’t dwell on the second trip.
So far this summer, 12 players have been shipped out, for reported fees of £45m, knocking £15m off the annual salary bill. Five have arrived – Scott Sinclair, Micah Richards, Mark Bunn, Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi for an outlay of about £25m and as I write Lorient are reported to have accepted Villa’s £7-8m bid for Jordan Ayew. Villa may have power and finances to add and are being linked with many more players too, but usually ones other clubs also covet.
Realistic expectations for next season might be a top 15 finish. Older fans who enjoyed the glory days mentioned above might also have experienced the decline to Division Three football in the early 1970s. But we do at least recall regular success and going to Villa Park expecting a win. Those good times may just return at some point but it's hard to forecast when. Glyn Berrington