Birmingham Mail

Keep, loan or sell - The Aston Villa leftovers from last summer's £130 million transfer experiment

Birmingham Mail logo Birmingham Mail 17/09/2020 12:32:55 Ashley Preece

"Whatever was speculated before, I was in full agreement with the players brought in with Suso."

That was Dean Smith's hasty reply when asked about whether or not the Aston Villa head coach had a say in any of Villa's 16-player recruitment drive in 2019/20 under axed sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch, otherwise known as Suso.

Villa spent roughly £140 million on a complete - and much-needed - squad overhaul and it was Suso who was tasked with bringing in players on that very budget.

Fast-forward 12 months and Villa - after surviving by the skin of their teeth last term - have a different mantra of adding quality as opposed to quantity.

Smith has already smashed Villa's club-record fee to bring in Ollie Watkins for an initial £28 million. A further £16-20 million has been spent on goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, too, despite Tom Heaton eyeing a return within a month (October 17). Matty Cash is another one that's arrived, again despite Villa having options at right-back. The Bertrand Traore transfer is expected to be finalised, too, for around £17 million.

Smith's recently admitted he already has a foundation of four to five top-class players, seemingly making reference to Heaton, Tyrone Mings, Douglas Luiz, John McGinn and Jack Grealish. The boss lost three of them to injury last year with Douglas Luiz arriving way behind schedule in terms of match sharpness.

Villa, meanwhile, have since hired a new transfer guru who's been pictured at the unveiling of every Villa deal this summer: Johan Lange. "The club decided to go in a different direction and Johan has come in," Smith said of the Dane taking over from his Spanish predecessor. "I felt for Suso last season because it was such a big turnover and I thought we did a fantastic job doing what we did. You'll never hear a bad word about Suso from me. I really enjoyed working with him."

With that said and, ahead of a new dawn under Lange, BirminghamLive analyses Smith's comments surrounding Suso to see if he did indeed do a "fantastic job" with the players he helped to sign and assess their futures in B6.

Note: Players listed are signings who didn't work with Smith previous to Aston Villa.

Before you read on, what would you do? Swipe left or right to decide

Lovre Kalinic

Smith's first official signing under Suso's watch back in January 2019. The Croatian, who cost £5.4 million from Gent in Belgium, has endured a disastrous Villa Park career which has been limited to just eight appearances, the last of which came against West Brom a little over a month after signing in February of last year.

The 30-year-old is fully expected to depart prior to the October 5 deadline knowing Villa have five first-team goalkeepers on their books currently following the arrival of Emiliano Martinez. Kalinic didn't even travel to Burton on Tuesday with teenage stopper Viljami Sinisalo preferred to warm-up Jed Steer and Orjan Nyland.

Kalinic won't be a Villa player too much longer as he'll look to rebuild his career ahead of the next summer's European Championships.

Frederic Guilbert

A deadline-day capture back in January 2019 before being loaned back out to Caen for the remainder of the 18-19 campaign. Guilbert joined up with Villa for the first time out in Minnesota last summer and eventually edged his way into Smith's Premier League starting XI.

A bit of a snip at £4.5 million and a player who can be brilliant one minute and reckless the next.

Performed really well on his return from injury against Arsenal last term but, this summer, Smith has signed Cash for an initial £14 million. The Forest man started against Man United and looks nailed-on to be Smith's first-choice right-back in the Premier League.

Other option Ahmed Elmohamady got the nod at Burton which was a shock,

Guilbert remained an unused sub. The Frenchman has been touted with a move back to his homeland. A bit of a surprise to see him edged out. Has all the traits to be a Premier League success. We'll wait and see with this one, Guilbert's immediate future does appear incredibly uncertain.

Matt Targett

a group of people watching a football ball on a field: Matt Targett of Aston Villa celebrates scoring against Leicester City © Catherine Ivill/Getty ImagesMatt Targett of Aston Villa celebrates scoring against Leicester City  

A player scouted by Suso and one that was readily available last summer after losing his place to Ryan Bertrand at Southampton. Targett signed for a similar fee Villa have just forked out for Cash on the opposite side with the pair looking certain to start in an all-English back four for Villa this season.

Smith bigged up Targett's England potential during a good run of form last season. Needs to kick on in 20/21 and improve the defensive side of his game. Very much first-choice, though, and here for the long haul. Turns 25 tomorrow.

Bjorn Engels

a crowd of people watching a football game: Bjorn Engels and Jack Grealish © TIM EASTHOPE/BIRMINGHAM MAILBjorn Engels and Jack Grealish  

Another signing from France here, Bjorn Engels arrived from Reims for a little over £7 million in what appeared to be a bargain having initially struck up a promising partnership with Tyrone Mings at the beginning of last season. Engels was tracked by Smith at Brentford previously, while he was one of SIX signings under Suso who had played in Belgium.

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Lost his way after picking up injuries last year and remains back-up given the emergence of Ezri Konsa as Smith's preferred right-side centre-back option. It bodes to be a tough season for Engels knowing Konsa's in his way but that could quickly change. Expecting the Belgian to stay around to fight for his place. Should start next week against Bristol City in the cup.

Marvelous Nakamba


Another Belgian import, Naka. The £10.8 million signing started off like a house on fire with confidence taking a hit around the underwhelming Christmas and New Year period last year. The 26-year-old could be one of the ones Smith mentioned who'll improve tenfold after 12 months playing Premier League football.

Like Engels previously, Nakamba is a back-up option at present given the brilliance of Douglas Luiz in Villa's anchorman position in midfield.

Nakamba started exactly half of Villa's Premier League games last year but did lose his starting place in Project Restart. Villa, though, aren't blessed with too much in midfield with Nakamba being the only out-and-out defensively minded midfielder. Can be useful this season and a surprise package knowing Villa will want to be much more pragmatic to see games out. A quality ball-winner. Did well at Burton.

Douglas Luiz

a man holding a football ball: Douglas Luiz joined Aston Villa last summer from Manchester City © Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty ImagesDouglas Luiz joined Aston Villa last summer from Manchester City

Suso's biggest success story was the £15 million transfer of Douglas Luiz from Manchester City. There is, of course, the ticking time bomb of a buy-back clause but there's nothing to suggest Pep Guardiola will act on that prior to when it expires next summer. Struggled to start with last term, came up with flashes of brilliance but really came into his own for Villa's final 10 games.

The Brazilian will be a key player for Villa moving forward and, knowing those close to him, he's loving life at Villa Park having fully emerged himself with the language and culture within the Bodymoor Heath dressing room. You've gotta give ex-sporting director Suso huge credit for this one. What a player.


Trezeguet is yet another player with previous in Belgium's Jupiler Pro. The Egyptian, though, was signed for £9 million from Kasimpasa from Turkey after Smith and Suso flew out to Egypt to watch him first-hand in the African Cup of Nations. Villa's head coach admired his relentless work rate and believed, with a bit of fine-tuning, he could easily double or even triple his valuation. The early signs last year were good.

Trez looked a threat at places such as Arsenal, Man City and Old Trafford while, at Chelsea, finished a brilliant team goal. The 25-year-old finished the season as Villa's second-highest scorer behind Jack Grealish with seven goals, including a mini goal glut at the tail-end of the Restart - three strikes in two games - to help Villa over the survival line.

Has energy in abundance but needs to improve final-ball quality which he showcased in last weekend's assist for Watkins against United. Trezeguet has edged way past Anwar El Ghazi in Smith's pecking order while he'll have a fight on his hands upon the impending arrival of Traore. Expecting a better from Trezeguet season for 20/21. The potential is there.


© Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Have I mentioned Belgium? Well, Villa went all-out to smash their record for Wesley from Club Brugge in a deal worth £22 million. The 23-year-old became Villa's new No.9 but, initially, struggled to adapt to the demands of the Premier League. Took his goals against the likes of Everton, Arsenal and Norwich well before a devastating ACL injury halted his six-goal start to life at Villa Park.

There still appears to be a long road ahead for the Brazilian who'll be looking to target a pre-Christmas return to action. Villa going big on Watkins tells you everything about Wesley's injury. The striker was beginning to grow into his Aston Villa role and looks tailor-made for the Premier League. Thankfully, time's on his side. Villa can't afford to rush him back. The big man will be like a new signing when fully fit again.

Mbwana Ally Samatta

a hand holding a football ball: Mbwana Samatta in action for Aston Villa © Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty ImagesMbwana Samatta in action for Aston Villa

Our final Belgian import, Mbwana Samatta, the Premier League's first-ever Tanzanian footballer. Suso had the remit of signing an in-form striker and got £8.5 million Samatta over the line in January to replace the injured Wesley. Samatta scored 61 goals in four-and-a-half years for Racing Club Genk, including 18 in Europe.

The early signs looked promising but the 27-year-old struggled for match fitness given Belgium's winter break. Confidence took a hammering amidst all the pandemic uncertainty and he struggled to adapt and play in Villa's lonesome striker role against some of the league's best defences. The level of criticism fired at Samatta was, for me, a tad harsh knowing Villa were struggling.

There's reported interest from Fenerbahce to take Samatta on loan. The striker was unused at Burton, with Smith refusing to rule out buying a new striker ahead of the transfer deadline. There's no way Samatta will play ahead of Watkins this season as it stands. Struggling to see how he comes back from his dip in form and could well be heading for the exit door.

17. syyskuuta 2020 15:32:55 Categories: Birmingham Mail

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