Napoli fullback Faouzi Ghoulam has enquired about by Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and another club, according to reports from Italy.
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
There are no illusions that Aston Villa needs to solidify their squad for the quickly arriving Premier League season. While transfer rumours are swirling around the Midlands club on a day to day basis, the links are mostly about players in the forward positions on the pitch. There are heavy claims from Villa supporters that they would like to see the club strengthen the defence as well, most notably in the fullback positions.
Nicolo Schira from the Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta claims that Aston Villa has reached out to Napoli, “asking for information” about 29-year-old left-back Faouzi Ghoulam. Ghoulam only played in nine Serie A matches this season, and only played over 90 minutes in two of those matches. Ghoulam was a nailed-on starter until Mario Rui arrived at Napoli in 2018, and Rui has been favoured as the starting left-back predominantly ever since.
What makes the reported link to Aston Villa even more interesting is that Ghoulam belongs to Gestifute, the agency who is rather famous for employing the enigmatic agent Jorge Mendes. Mendes has brought players and coaches to the Midlands before, be it Aston Villa with Anwar El Ghazi or Wolverhampton with Diogo Jota, Ruben Neves & Rui Patricio. According to Schira, Wolverhampton and Lille are also supposedly looking at bringing in Ghoulam as well.
Wait, wait, wait… time out.
After all of the talk from Christian Purslow about bringing in bright, younger talent that would drive up the players value, Villa are looking at a 29-year-old left-back? And one that doesn’t necessarily play often? Something seems a little off about this transfer rumour, but most do at this time of year.
In all of his 429 minutes on the pitch last season, which is a small sample size, Ghoulam made 19 accurate passes to the final third of the pitch, which sounds a treat to any football fan. But Ghoulam lost the ball in his own half of the pitch 40 times. That’s not a typo. Forty. There are palpable reasons why this number could be so high while his playing time was so low: A lack of confidence, no tangible chemistry with his teammates, or being thrown on as a substitute. Ghoulam has been regarded in the past as a good left-back for Napoli. But his production has steadily dropped in the past number of years: a sign of diminished effectiveness. Ghoulam made 12 assists in the 16/17 season, but his minutes on the pitch and assists have dwindled ever since on a season-to-season basis. 12 assists in 16-17, then 4, then 3 and now one lonely assist this most previous season.
Comparing Ghoulam with Aston Villa’s current starting left-back Matt Targett, who seemed to improve as the season went on, is a tough nut to crack due to the massive gulf in playing time in the 2019-2020 season. Targett gave up the ball in his own half of the pitch his fair share as well, but the English defender always tried to get back into position to cover any danger. Targett’s 193 interceptions through 3067 minutes played in all competitions this previous season may come as a surprise to Aston Villa supporters, but the stats show that Targett just isn’t as forward-thinking on the pitch as most would like to think.
It is not a revolutionary idea to feel that Villa must solidify a defence that was shaky at best last season, but adding a player like Ghoulam does not seem to fit the transfer policy or ability policy that Villa supporters have heard about previously. It appears as though Ghoulam was once a good player who could have made a splash in the Premier League a lot earlier in his career. In the present, this comes off as a rumour that does not fit that narrative that Aston Villa have been trying to push since being promoted back into the Premier League. Jorge Mendes seems hard at work, as he always is, trying to find places for his clients to land. Ghoulam will be no different, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a move that Aston Villa should be interested in.