Life at Villa Park hasn’t looked this promising in a while. Having secured top-flight football for another term, Paul Lambert and co. have done some good business so far this summer. Aston Villa have recruited five relatively unknown yet promising players, all under the age of 23, even before the transfer window has officially opened.
Meanwhile, Lambert is also trying to trim the wage bill by getting rid of the deadwood. Brett Holman, Richard Dunne, Eric Lichaj, Jean Makoun and Andy Marshall have all departed Villa while the club is also seeking suitors for high earners Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given.
Moreover, if Villa manage to recoup the expected £8 million from the sale of Bent, their net spending for the transfer season will come down to a sustainable amount and allow Lambert to rope in two or three more youngsters.
Lambert's Aston Villa "revolution", which is slowly starting to take shape, began last summer when the 43-year-old took over the managerial reigns at the Birmingham based club.
Lambert was brought on board, courtesy of his successful stint with Norwich City. He led the Canaries to successive promotions and an admirable 12th place finish during their debut Premier League season. The team was built on a nominal transfer budget and consisted of several youth academy graduates.
A team effort took Aston Villa over the line last season...
The key to Norwich's success was the work ethic of the players and an enthusiastic dressing room environment. There were no high-profile individuals or "egos" in the team. No star player was hogging the limelight or creating off-field distractions.
This led to football being the sole focus and the players showcasing excellent unity and collectiveness.
Villa's American owners understood that the club had to limit their spending on players. The Villains announced a loss of £53.9m on 31 May 2011 and the wage-roll under Alex Mcleish had reached astronomical levels. At the same time, the club was also struggling to stay afloat in England's top division.
To improve the on-field output and the financial structure, club chairman Randy Lerner identified Lambert as the right man to steady the ship. The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder accepted the challenge and kicked off his Villa tenure by placing emphasis on youth and financial stability.
Academy talents were promoted while untested and inexperienced players were purchased in the transfer market, including some from the lower divisions. He didn't target high-profile players, but ones with the required commitment and determination to contribute towards Villa's cause.
As the season progressed, Lambert phased out the senior players with hefty wages and big egos such as Bent and Given. He has always wanted to develop a positive atmosphere in the team where the players try to get into the starting XI on the basis of their performances and not their achievements of the past.
Benteke was pivotal to Aston Villa's fortunes last campaign...
His much criticized move eventually paid dividends last season. Even though, Villa narrowly avoided relegation last term, the team is now oozing with young sought-after talents. Christian Benteke, a deadline day signing by Lambert, is billed as one of the best young strikers in England, having scored 23 times for Villa in his debut season.
Other new signings like Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood also impressed. Lowton’s stunning displays at right-back even gained him international recognition and some suggest the 24-year-old might make the cut for England's 2014 World Cup squad.
From the academy, Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark and Andreas Weimann stood out. Only two seniors were able to make it into Lambert's first-team on a continual basis, captain Ron Vlaar and keeper Brad Guzan.
Tactically speaking, Lambert has shunned the negative ploys used by his predecessor McLeish. Villa now break up the opposition and play attractive, attacking football which came to fruition in their 6-1 win over Sunderland during the business end of the season.
The former Scotland international's new signings this summer are hidden gems with the ability to take his philosophy forward.
Striker Nicklas Helenius, signed from Danish club Aalborg BK, is a versatile attacker and was voted the league's best player by UEFA last season. With the 22-year-old, Weimann, Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor among his options, Lambert will possess one of the most talented attacking lines in England.
Winger Aleksander Tonev will provide another option from the flank, while Leandro Bacuna can finally bring an end to Villa's search for a box-to-box midfielder.
Okore can become a mainstay in Villa's defense...
Spaniard Antonio Luna can solve the left-back conundrum, while 20-year-old centre-back Jores Okore, signed from FC Nordsjaelland, can become a mainstay in the Villa backline for years to come. Okore's showing in the Champions League last season attracted interest from Chelsea, only for the defender to reject the Blues' offer as he wanted more playing time than he would have got at Stamford Bridge.
Lambert is making clever transfers and if the new players stutter in the Premier League, their modest wages will allow Villa to easily ship them off.
On the other hand, the versatile traits of the likes of Helenius, Tonev and Bacuna will automatically present Lambert with numerous options for several playing positions. Not to forget, the new signings will increase the competition and up the performances of the existing players in order to make the starting eleven.
Lambert knows that the aim at present is not to win silverware but to move up the Premier League standings in a financially astute way with the help of players who can make the club a driving force.
While we see West Ham United and Sunderland spending heavily on experienced players to move up the domestic ladder, Lambert is doing the same in a sustainable manner. He might not guarantee immediate success, but the future of Aston Villa looks bright and in safe hands.
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