Martin O’Neill’s side have done virtually no business in the run up to the new season and instead of buying new players Villa could well be selling them. Having lost Gareth Barry to Manchester City this time last year – the very same looks set to happen again with City currently in the running to sign James Milner at a cost of around £25-£30million. While it may come as a big blow to Villa it will however, provide them with some much needed transfer funds.
Owner Randy Lerner, at the end of last season stated that the club will need to adopt a “sell to buy” policy. “There’s a sell-to-buy policy in nearly every organisation on the planet. It’s good business to try to sell to buy.” said Lerner. This will be Villa’s fifth consecutive season under Martin O’Neill and last year they kept up the consistency by finishing sixth in the league for the third season in a row – meaning that they will once again contest European football in the form of the Europa League.
The problem with Villa seems to be maintaining their early season form and transferring it over to post-Christmas and New Year, ultimately the manager is entirely to blame on that front. Martin O’Neill has come in for a lot of criticism for his rotation policy, or lack of one. His continued refusal to rotate the squad led to Villa tiring in the latter part of games, in particular a 7-1 defeat to Chelsea being an example. Even John Terry managed to pinpoint it: “We knew Villa would tire after 55-60 minutes and that if we kept passing the ball, spaces would appear and chances would come,” the Chelsea captain said.
That is not to say last season was a disaster for Villa because they were pressing for a top four spot and Champions League football until two defeats in their final two games resigned them to another sixth place finish. They did however, finish above Liverpool and just three points behind Manchester City in fifth. Also, Villa managed to reach Wembley twice in the one season. Firstly, in the Carling Cup final where they were defeated 2-1 by Manchester United and secondly, in the FA Cup semi-final where they were also defeated, this time by Chelsea 3-0.
Last season, Villa managed to beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United in the league, so, in terms of pedigree the hunger and desire to beat the big teams is there and it can be done it is a question of: will O’Neill spend the money he looks likely to receive from the Milner transfer correctly? Mathieu Flamini along with Aiden McGeady have been mentioned as possible replacements, it also looks as if Stephen Ireland or Craig Bellamy could be part of the Milner deal. Other than that it looks as if matters could be quiet on the transfer front for Villa.
Realistically, with City taking all the headlines for spending this summer it looks as if last season and the season before could easily be an opportunity missed for Villa in terms of reaching the Champions League or indeed winning the FA Cup or Carling Cup. Effectively, Villa are getting weaker and while City seem to be going from strength to strength. There have been musings among fans that O’Neill is no longer the right man for the job and this could well be his defining season in charge, therefore, it would not be surprising if O’Neill leaves before the season ends. The bar has been set in the past three seasons by finishing sixth and that is where the club will be aiming to finish once again.