At the moment Aston Villa seem to be a club perpetually on the back foot.
The Villains’ acquisition of a selection of cut-price summer signings, players who have consistently underwhelmed in the Premier League throughout their careers (welcome aboard Joe Cole, Phillip Senderos, and Kieran Richardson!), seems to exhibit all of the hallmarks that one has come to associate with a club whose sole ambition is to survive relegation in the coming campaign.
Simultaneously Villa’s systematic offloading of a rake of players that were only signed twelve months ago (so long Jordan Bowery, Nicklas Helenius, Yacouba Sylla, Aleksander Tonev, and Antonio Luna) constitutes a tacit admission that the Birmingham club operated with no greater efficacy in the previous summer window.
These developments damningly reflect an institutional incompetence that has been allowed to run rampant at Villa Park ever since the club’s American owner, Randy Lerner, decided that he has lost interest in his once prized investment and wants out of the Premier League for good.
Villa also appear set to face a battle to keep hold of some of their most prized first-team assets.
Although Christian Benteke’s long-term injury (a set-back that ruled the Belgian out of the recent World Cup in Brazil) may offer the club a stay of execution from losing the one truly outstanding talent in their current roster, the side’s best defender, Ron Vlaar, looks almost certain to depart Villa Park this summer.
Southampton, Tottenham, Roma, and even Manchester United are all clubs rumoured to retain a serious interest in acquiring the 29 year-old Dutch international in the coming weeks.
In the face of all of this negativity, then, Fabian Delph’s recent comments that he is hopeful of renewing his contract at Villa gave fans everywhere a welcome boost ahead of the beginning of what resembles an increasingly ominous new league campaign.
Delph told Villa fans during a Question and Answers session held during the club’s one-week preseason tour of Texas that: “I’d love to sign a new deal and am ready to talk, but it’s not up to me, so we’ll have to see.” The 24 year-old midfielder added that: “I feel like I went missing for a few years and that’s not something I’m happy with.
Indeed, the 2013/14 season can be strangely seen to constitute Delph’s real break-out campaign in English football. This statement seems strange when made in reference to a player who was talked about as a future England captain when he emerged as a promising teenage talent at Leeds and had a cluster of Premier League clubs queuing to sign him before he could even buy a legal pint.
When Martin O’Neill acquired Delph in 2009, therefore, it was seen as a real coup for Villa; a club who were at that stage consistently pushing to achieve Champions League qualification. Injuries, though, halted Delph’s progression in its tracks, and his declining fortunes seemed to mirror that of club which began listing after O’Neill departed in 2010.
Delph made just 23 appearances in his first two seasons contracted to Villa after injuring his cruciate ligament in April 2010. In the 2012/13 season, though, Delph established himself as a regular starter under the new tenure of Paul Lambert and made 32 appearances through that campaign, scoring one goal.
Last year, however, Delph truly began to fulfil the early promise that he showed as an academy player at Leeds and his performances reflected a humbling determination to repay Villa for handing him a new contract even though he was on the long term injury list in 2011.
Delph made 36 appearances for Paul Lambert’s side last time out, netting on four occasions and contributing numerous man-of-the-match performances (notably against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea) that resulted in him being voted Player of the Year by the supporters.
News of Delph’s willingness to stay is thus a welcome boost for Villains everywhere ahead of the new campaign. One suggests that Lambert should move quickly to tie the midfielder down to a new long-term deal, however, lest the club’s fortunes begin to slide and Delph experiences a change of heart.