The considerable overhaul that Aston Villa’s first-team squad that has undergone already this summer looks set to continue as Aleksandar Tonev and Antonio Luna have been left out of the 26-man squad that Paul Lambert has flown to America in order to partake in two pre-season friendlies against the Texas-based Major League Soccer duo of FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo later this week.
Tonev and Luna look set to join a fast growing list of departures from Villa Park this transfer window that has already seen winger, Marc Albrighton, and the once promising youngster, Nathan Delfouneso, released on free-transfers (the former has moved to the newly promoted Leicester City); striker, Jordan Bowery, move to Rotherham for an undisclosed fee; and Nicklaus Helenius and Yacouba Sylla move to out on season-long loan deals to Aalborg and Kayseri Erciyesspor respectively.
The impending sale of Luna and Tonev, on top of the out-going loan deals agreed for Sylla and Helenius, constitutes a damning indictment on the manner in which Villa conducted its transfer business in the previous summer. It is understandable that all of these players have been allowed to leave Birmingham after just one season in the Premier League owing to the fact that, to a man, they failed to make any real impact on the first team. What should worry Villa fans everywhere, however, is the fact that they were brought to the club in the first place.
Incompetent player recruitment on this scale is almost unprecedented in the English top-flight and is something typically associated with poorly managed newly promoted clubs. The recent cases of Cardiff and Queens Park Rangers, for example, have demonstrated the manner in which sides elevated from the Championship to the Premier League are frequently forced to undertake considerable restructuring of their first-team squads in order to cope with the increased standard of opposition that they are set to face in the coming campaign. This often sees the club in question begin to panic-buy over-hyped players with tactful agents from lesser European leagues on cut-price deals as time in the transfer window runs out.
It is very infrequent that any of these signings are cut-out for the English top-flight, however, and it is not a policy that Villa fans would like to see their club persist with into the future. The fact that this system of recruiting young players from lesser European leagues has been so swiftly abandoned, though, hardly offers any great degree of comfort for supporters; rather it reflects the perpetuation of the same lack of joined up thinking that led to the acquisitions of players like Tonev and Luna in the first place.
Villa have now lurched violently from the one ineffective extreme of signing a relatively unknown Bulgarian winger from Lech Poznan for a fee in the region of £2 million one season to loading up on consistently underperforming veterans of the English game like Joe Cole, Kieran Richardson, and Phillip Senderos the next. Indeed, the only disheartening constant in this policy is the lack of any serious money being invested into a first-team squad that has now finished dangerously close to the relegation zone for three consecutive seasons.
Thus while few among the Villa faithful will mourn the loss of Tonev and Luna who made a combined 34 appearances during their single season in Birmingham, fans can be legitimately angered at the lack of basic planning and competence in the sphere of player recruitment that the duo’s uninspiring signing and swift departure shows up. One can only hope that Paul Lambert and his recruitment team have identified higher calibre and better experienced replacements for Luna and Tonev in the interim and that they will be given the financial backing required to carry new signings off.