Aston Villa have a squad of 33 with an average age of 23. In their last match against Fulham, they had an average starting XI age of 23 and a half. Paul Lambert’s Villa have faced a lot of critics, mainly due to the large amount of youngsters in the squad. Many have blamed Villa’s flirtations with relegation on the youthfulness of the squad. Mistakes which have led to goals have been blamed on the inexperience of the team, and the loss of their talismanic captain Stylian Petrov to lukemia.
Under intense critiscm, especially from Villa fans, Paul Lambert has stuck with his youthful squad. With an increase in form after the January transfer window, it looks like Villa will survive, with them three points above the drop. Admittedly Wigan have a game in hand over Villa, but that is against Swansea; a tough fixture. Stoke City also look more likely to go down, (see the ‘Why is Tony Pulis still at Stoke City?’ article). Much credit must go to Lambert for keeping his squad together and appearing to not lose his dressing room. The young players have also developed greatly, and less mistakes seem to be happening within the team; especially in the previously shaky defence.
Christian Benteke, still only 22, has been a majestic signing for Villa. The young, powerful Belgium striker who arrived from Genk in the summer leads Villa’s scoring chart and is second in the assisting chart; with 15 goals and 4 assists. He cost Villa just £7,744,000, a cheap fee for a goalscoring striker who also acts as the focal point for most of his team’s attacks. The partnership he has formed with the 21 year old Austrian Andreas Weimann has been one key feature of Villa’s rise out of the relegation zone. Weimann has scored 6 goals this season and is joint-second with Benteke on assists, with 4. Paul Lambert when asked Benteke’s value said this “If someone wanted to buy Christian, they’d better have a few quid in their pocket.”
Due to Villa’s owner Randy Lerner not having the vast amounts of money to buy multiple players in the transfer window, Lambert has instead looked towards the Aston Villa academy for young talent to strengthen his side. The Villa academy deserves great credit, and should be the envy of supporters in this country. All these players who have appeared for the current first team have been through the Aston Villa academy: Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, Eric Lichaj, Chris Herd, Nathan Baker, Derrick Williams, Gary Gardner and Samir Carruthers. The trend of Aston Villa’s academy producing first team players looks set to continue, with Aston Villa beating Chelsea in the final of the NextGen series. The NextGen series is, to quote from their website, “an international football tournament like no other, where twenty-four of the world’s best football clubs showcase their stars of the future in an exciting international knockout competition.” It is an under19s tournament, with world class academies such as Ajax Amsterdam, Barcelona and Arsenal take part. Villa’s academy is technically the best in Europe.
The youthful energy provided by the young squad Villa possess is crucial. A lot of teams look like they are starting to tire this season, with some top players looking exhausted from the physical demands of the Premier League. Aston Villa’s squad looks bright and full of energy. Young players generally have more energy and suffer fewer injuries as their bodies are fitter. The energy Villa have is allowing them to beat top teams, work harder and peak in the final vital games. The young players can also be sold by Villa to raise funds, as their transfer market value rises.
More criticism was directed at Randy Lerner and Paul Lambert for only buying one player in the January transfer window, Yacouba Sylla. Villa though seem to have proven their doubters wrong, as players who previously looked poor now seem to be performing well. Without resorting to panic buying, Villa have kept more money for the summer transfer window, where they can plan a transfer better. They could also invest the money saved into the academy, making it even more successful.
Villa also have a large number of young, home nations players. One common critiscm of the Premier League is that not enough home-grown talent is given the chance to germinate, with foreign imports being favoured instead. 6 English players were played against Fulham in Villa’s 1-1 draw. This, sadly is a rare sight in the Premier League; Villa are giving English players a chance. The players played had an average age of 22, hopefully some of them will develop into full England internationals. Gareth Barry, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, all current England internationals, spent time in their early careers at Aston Villa.
So if Villa do stay up; congratulations to them for sticking to their plan, not being phased by media and public pressure and, also, believing in home-grown talent produced from their brilliant academy. Paul Lambert deserves a lot of praise for not being influenced by the media. If Villa go down, they still have a young squad which will gain more important experience from the Championship. However, I just can’t see them being relegated. Alan Hansen once infamously said:”You’ll win nothing with kids”, after predicting the failure of Fergurson’s young Manchester United side which featured future stars such as Beckham, Scholes and Neville. How wrong he was proved to be, maybe Villa can also win something with kids like Sir Alex!
Thanks to Jake Dawson for inspiring me