Aston Villa’s worst nightmare has become a reality and testing times lie ahead.
The books were balanced, to an extent, last summer by manager Steve Bruce as several players departed to boost the coffers.
Ex-England and Chelsea captain John Terry, Glenn Whelan, Ahmed Elmohamady and Chris Samba were all handed lucrative contracts with the funds raised and Bruce utilised his contacts book to snap up three players on loan.
With five players out of contract, five loanees to return to their parent clubs, six players set to return from loan spells away and lots more to be decided, this is the most important summer transfer window in Aston Villa’s 144-year history.
Dr Tony Xia cut a glum figure as Sky Sports’ cameras zoned in on him during the latter stages of Villa’s play-off final defeat to Fulham.
It hasn’t panned out the way the Chinese Businessman planned after buying out Randy Lerner two years ago.
Xia and his trusted Villa Park colleagues face some big decisions this summer.
Who leads Villa?
The first big decision Xia, chief executive Keith Wyness and director of football Steve Round have to make centres around manager Steve Bruce.
By his own admission Bruce has failed to achieve what was asked of him this term.
The manager has previously hinted that he ‘won’t be here next year’ if promotion wasn’t achieved.
Meanwhile, during a meeting with Villa supporters’ groups, neither Wyness nor Round committed to keeping Bruce on as manager in the event of Wembley failure.
With four Championship promotions on his CV and an enviable queue of Premier League managers willing to do him favours, Bruce has all the skills Villa require.
“I will roll my sleeves up and get stuck into it again next season as long as the people above me see that I’m fit to do it,” Bruce said of his future in the immediate aftermath of Villa’s Wembley woe. “I will carry on.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’m in charge of a great club with a big history and tradition.”
With Bruce apparently intent on giving promotion another crack, the ball is firmly in the Villa hierarchy’s court.
Financial Fair Play
The club’s ongoing battle with Financial Fair Play is no secret. Rarely has Bruce made it through his weekly press conference without being questioned on the subject or bemoaning it of his own accord.
The fact of the matter is that Villa’s team which was defeated by Fulham in the play-off final was assembled on a much larger budget than their opponents’.
Villa have paid the big bucks in a desperate attempt to get out of the Championship and they’re now set to pay the price.
Figures released today showed the £142 million difference between winning the play-off final and losing it.
At least one of the club’s star players will need to be sold this summer. Selling Jack Grealish would bring the biggest financial boost with the 22-year-old valued at around £20million.
Grealish would rather stay at Villa Park, hence his complete and utter devastation at the final whistle on May 26, but he’s also desperate to play for England and knows he can’t achieve that in the Championship.
Wales international James Chester is another fans’ favourite bound to attract interest from top flight clubs.
Released & retained
The burning question on everyone’s lips now: what happens to John Terry?
Terry’s contract included an option to extend his stay had the club been promoted to the Premier League. But without the lucrative bonus promotion would have earned him, and the fact his £70,000 per week wages would need to be subsidised in order to stay, Terry is expected to bid farewell to Villa after one season.
Those inside the club are convinced Wembley failure brings down the curtain on Terry’s short, yet eventful, Villa Park career.
Alan Hutton has enjoyed the best season of his Villa career, yet he’s now free to join another club.
The right-back turned left-back is settled in the area and hopes to agree a new contract.
Prior to the play-off final, Bruce appeared keen to reverse the club’s original stance to release Hutton at the end of this campaign.
Just days before the final, Bruce said: “I can confirm to you now we will be talking to him next week, whichever division we are in. He deserves it.”
Experienced defender Chris Samba and goalkeeper Mark Bunn are also out of contract. Samba is expected to depart after just one season and 14 appearances in claret and blue but the goalkeeping situation is an interesting one and Bunn could yet be kept on as back-up goalkeeper.
The club’s all-time leading Premier League goalscorer Gabby Agbonlahor will leave Villa Park having learned his fate months ago.
Villa had five players borrowed from Premier League clubs who have now returned.
Bruce planned to sign goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass permanently following promotion.
The club has put 18 months of coaching and patience into Johnstone and hoped he would become their long-term No.1.
Manchester United want £5million for Johnstone. Without Premier League football on the table that deal looks extremely difficult for Villa, if not impossible.
Snodgrass has been a delight at Villa Park. Not only did he put in some outstanding displays on the wing, Snodgrass’ humour and wit played a huge part in uniting a dressing room which was previously divided. A permanent deal for Snodgrass is out of the question with West Ham’s price tag out of reach.
Lewis Grabban scored eight goals to help Villa reach the play-off final but he was always seen as a quick fix. It’s unlikely Bournemouth would be willing to lease him to Villa again having made it their preference to sell him as early as last summer.
Josh Onomah will return to Spurs and paid tribute to Bruce before he left. He said: “The Championship is a physical league and it’s all about playing men’s football. I think I’ve learned that side of my game and I want to thank Steve Bruce for helping me.
“He’s helped me on and off the pitch, he tells me where I’ve gone wrong and where I need to improve. That’s what you need from a manager.
“He’s an experienced man, as a manager and a player. For him to give me information you know what he’s saying and you just have to take it on board, just learn from him as much as possible.”
Axel Tuanzebe’s stint at Villa was ineffective due to injury, but he could yet return to the club.
There are whispers around Bodymoor Heath that Tuanzebe could return to Villa on a season-long loan from Manchester United.
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Pierluigi Gollini, Tommy Elphick, Ritchie De Laet, Aaron Tshibola, Gary Gardner and Carles Gil are all due to return to Villa this summer.
Tshibola’s loan spell at Kilmarnock has perhaps been the most successful, but the 23-year-old has no future at Villa.
Gollini, De Laet, Gardner and Gil don’t feature in Bruce’s plans as things stand, but that could change as the club come to terms with their playing budget for next season.
Tommy Elphick was used sparingly by Bruce last season and could force his way back into contention if Terry and Chester leave the club this summer.
Promoting from within
Villa’s financial predicament is likely to see a few of the club’s most talented youngsters fast-tracked to the first team.
Despite some suggestions, Villa’s first team won’t be crammed with kids next season.
The likes of Callum O’Hare – who picked up a nasty looking injury at the end of last season – and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy will hope to be involved having impressed for the under-23s.
Defender Mitch Clark and midfielder Jake Doyle-Hayes are two others Villa could lean on to bulk up the first team squad in the event of a mass overhaul.
While Andre Green and Keinan Davis will continue to form part of Villa’s first team next season.
Source : BirminghamMail