Our writers have joined forces for the first of a series of articles – the first being ‘unlikely’ but still possible signings for Aston Villa this summer.
Words: Under A Gaslit Lamp Writers | @VillaLamp
Every once in a while, we task our writers with joining forces on articles where a wide range of opinions can all be seen within one place. This summer, we’re going to pick out a number of transfer-related subjects for our writers, and they’ll come back to us with their thoughts, reasoning and more.
This time around, we asked our writers to come up with a single player that is a plausible signing for Aston Villa – meaning that you could see the club targeting a player of their ilk, being able to afford them, and so forth. The thing is – we also tasked them with picking out players that perhaps wouldn’t join the club in the first place.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Renato Sanches, 23, Lille (Market value: £18,000,000)
Regan Foy, Founder and Editor-in-Chief (@findfoy)
Most fans will remember Renato Sanches for his poor loan spell at Swansea City in which his most notable moment was a pass to an advertising board.
The midfielder had moved from Benfica to Bayern Munich, won the UEFA European Championships with Portugal whilst being named as the Young Player of the Tournament, and picked up the annual Golden Boy award – it was a thrust into the spotlight if there ever was one.
Now, four years on, the Portugal international’s career has perhaps not gone the way that he, or fans of him, would have hoped.
This year, he has played over 33 times for Lille and put his name back on the map with exceptional performances throughout the season. He is an adept passer of the ball with a pass accuracy of 87% throughout the season, a long pass accuracy of 70% and experience at the highest level.
There are issues in his style of play – and Sanches is somewhat of an enigma. He’s not great in the air – his aerial duel success sits at around 21%, and could be a lot better on the ground, with a ground dues success of around 48%. It’s really his passing that puts him on the radar.
For Sanches, he’s still young enough to develop into the star that saw Bayern Munich splash out what could have been nearly £80,000,000 (with add-ons like making the World XI and winning the Ballon d’or never coming to fruition) and would work well in the ‘Conor Hourihane’ role of Aston Villa’s midfield.
Perhaps what makes this move unlikely, is that he’s had a good season. If we were talking last summer, Renato Sanches would have been far cheaper and could have perhaps wanted to prove himself in the Premier League again.
Now, he’s been slapped with a £70,000,000 plus price tag at Lille. That, as well as European football for this season as his side finished fourth, probably makes him the least ‘plausible’ signing in this whole list.
Luis Sinisterra, 21, Feyenoord Rotterdam (Market value: £9,000,000)
Mark Jirobe, Co-Founder & Senior Contributor (@VillaMarkPGH)
Perhaps one of the more unknown players on the list, 21-year old winger Luis Sinisterra would appear to fit in nicely into Dean Smith’s system. He meets the age range in which Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow has been speaking about for the last year or so. The Colombian winger enjoyed a relatively productive season on the left flank for Feyenoord in the Eredivisie, even scoring a goal in the Europa League. He even received ‘Player of the Season’ honours for his club.
What Sinisterra brings to the table is a more defensively astute option. This past season, Sinisterra made 98 interceptions across all competitions – but don’t let that make you feel as though he can’t chip in on the offensive side of the ball. Seven goals and five assists may not be otherworldly in terms of production, but striking the balance between offensive and defensive phases on the pitch is vital in the modern game.
Ranking fifth among all players in the Eredivisie with a 7.60 match rating, the winger is coming off of a knee ligament injury, but all reports from Colombian and Dutch newspapers signal that the player has healed very well.
Unafraid to cut in from the left flank, shown in the player’s heat map for the last season, and when compared to Jack Grealish’s map from the same position, it seems that they would play somewhat of a similar role. The Colombian would likely not win as many fouls as Grealish, but the intent to come inside seems a vital mechanism in the tactical machine at Aston Villa. He was fouled 52 times across 2,917 minutes last season.
Unlike Grealish, Sinisterra is a little more communal with the ball at his feet when it comes to finding team-mates in open space. 1,053 accurate passes, to a 85.2% success, is definitely something that would improve Aston Villa – even as a substitute.
The nature of Robin Van Persie joining the coaching staff at Feyenoord would signal that a transfer may be more than unlikely. However, Feyenoord have already made a decent amount of signings and are reportedly short of funds to bring in more. In the event that the club are desperate, Sinisterra could be made available for an inflated fee.
Ethan Ampadu, 19, Chelsea (Market value: £8,100,000)
Harry Trend, Senior Contributor (@HazaTrand)
Chelsea have not yet pushed Ethan Ampadu into a loan move as the 19-year-old goes into his fourth season with the Blues. Frank Lampard has a reputation for giving youngsters a chance in the first team, with Reece James, Mas Mount and Tammy Abraham all featuring heavily last campaign – a reason perhaps for the Welshman to remain at Stamford Bridge.
Ampadu, who is equally adept in defence or the centre of midfield, has been linked to the club but isn’t likely to be on Villa’s radar. They have registered an interest in a loan move in the past.
Ampadu had a disappointing 2019/20 season. Loaned to RB Leipzig, the 19-year-old struggled with both back issues and game time under Julian Nagelsmann. That’s not to say he hasn’t played a part for the Bundesliga side, with the Welshman featuring in a number of Champions League games – most notably in defence as the Leipzig beat Tottenham 1-0 in London on their route to the Semi-Finals of the competition.
Playing in the middle of a back three, Ampadu made and completed more passes (93/98) than any other player on the night. Not only that, but the composed defender was quick to sniff out danger, making a leading five interceptions.
Nevertheless, some might say that Ethan’s career has stalled since joining Chelsea from Exeter City in 2017, and his playing time at club level reinforces this. Nevertheless, the versatile youngster is an important player for Ryan Giggs’ Wales side. With 13 caps under his belt, Ampadu played a big part in the Red Dragon’s Euro 2020 Qualification – in which the former Grecian controlled games at the base of midfield with a smart passing range and a structural awareness beyond his teenage years.
On the other hand, you could argue that Croatia were the only side in Group E to truly resemble a side of actual quality. When Wales did play the 2018 World Cup Finalists in Cardiff, Ampadu struggled to get a foothold in the game before having to depart for Joe Morrell after picking up an injury. Morrell’s performance subsequently outshone Ampadu’s, with the latter being dropped in the crucial qualification decider against Hungary.
At 19, Ampadu does have a lot of potential and it is unlikely Chelsea would let him go for anything less than a four-figure sum. In addition, Dean Smith and Aston Villa probably wouldn’t want to rely on a player with a lack of senior football in another potential relegation scrap. But, then again, Ampadu is no stranger to the big stage.
Dwight McNeil, 20, Burnley (Market value: £22,500,000)
Matt Blogg, Senior Contributor (@Blogg_Matt)
As far as signings go, a young Burnley winger would never usually be what Villa fans crave, but is Dwight McNeil a genuine exception?
At just 20 years old, McNeil played every game in Burnley’s 2019/20 Premier League campaign, contributing 2 goals and 6 assists as the Clarets finished the season in the top half. A wand of a left foot and heaps of potential, he certainly wouldn’t seem out of place at Villa Park, but as attractive as this signing is, it does seem incredibly unlikely.
Young, English, and strongly favoured at Burnley, it would take a huge sum of money to prise him away from the club that he is contracted to until 2023 (with the option of a further year). Additionally, as difficult as it may be to admit, moving from Burnley to Villa at this moment in time may not even be considered a step up. Club-wise the gulf is undoubtable, but the seven places between the two teams in the league table does suggest that any move would probably be questioned rather fiercely from outsiders taking the move at face value.
Any move would make a lot of sense for Villa from a football point of view, providing competition for the current inconsistent wingers, but less sense for McNeil personally, hence the ‘unlikely’ tag. It is highly improbable that he would feature in every single Premier League game as he did at Turf Moor (although if he were to hit the ground running then who knows?), and while a transfer would probably mean a large pay-rise for the ex-Manchester United academy player, it would also mean moving from home, leaving behind a fanbase who idolise him and having to trust that he could maintain his impressive form in a new system.
It is safe to say that McNeil would be a very positive addition to the Villa squad, with ability on a set-piece, a direct approach to the game and a scary amount of development ahead of him, but while he is certainly a man that Villa could look at, there would be little to no hope of actually landing him. Should Dean Smith guide his side to a comfortable mid-table finish this upcoming season then the idea of moving to Villa Park may become more attractive for players of Dwight McNeil’s ilk, but for now it remains merely a thought.
He fits the profile of young, hungry, energetic, versatile and full of potential that the club are keen to focus on, hence this transfer being genuinely feasible, but if the 20-year-old is at Villa Park come day one of the 2020/21 season, I would be incredibly surprised.
Luka Jovic, 22, Real Madrid (Market value: £28,800,000)
Andrew Maddox, Contributor (@MaddoxJourno)
If Villa wanted to make a big statement on a new striker, they could do much worse than Luka Jovic.
The 22-year-old Serbian striker built a great reputation for being a lethal fox-in-the-box striker, especially during his two year spell with Eintracht Frankfurt. However, Jovic has failed to settle in Madrid following his £54,000,000 move to the Spanish giants in 2019. It is believed that Zinedine Zidane will look to offload the Serb this summer following just two goals and one assist in 17 appearances for Los Blancos.
The diminutive Serb had a barnstorming 2018/19 season, netting 20 goals and racking up 12 assists as Frankfurt made a charge for the Europa League. A common criticism of Dean Smith’s tactics has been that he has often refused to play a quicker, more mobile striker to partner either Wesley or Mbwana Samatta. However, Jovic would fill this role perfectly.
Whilst at Frankfurt, Jovic preferred to start in a two with a big target man. He proved to be an effective foil for either Seb Haller or Gonçalo Paciência as Frankfurt missed out on the Europa League final on penalties. He is also perfectly capable of playing on his own, giving him an added of element of versatility that has been missing in Villa for a long time. Regardless of how ineffective he has been in Madrid, he is still a capable forward.
Jovic is currently being linked with Villa’s relegation rivals West Ham, indicating that it wouldn’t be impossible to tempt the Serb to the bottom half of the Premier League. However, the issue would be the fee. West Ham would be able to afford him as they are looking to sell Jovic’s former Frankfurt teammate and fellow big money flop Sebastian Haller to Monaco.
This would free up the wages of Haller and net them a cool fee, allowing West Ham to splash the cash. Villa would either have to blow half their budget or make a big sale to bring Jovic to B6, making a deal unlikely.
Owen Wijndal, 20, AZ Alkmaar (Market value: £9,900,000)
Guy Poxon, Contributor & Number Cruncher (@GuyPoxon)
Matt Targett had a pretty okay season, in truth. He looked good going forward and created a significant outlet for the team when he started to appear more regularly in the first 11. Of course, a few injuries and some poorer performances against the better teams in the Premier League hampered his season a little bit, but a good season nonetheless (his quality crosses and interceptions speak for themselves, if only there was a striker to finish those chances). The worry for Dean Smith, with Neil Taylor another year further into his twilight era, will be providing Targett with competition and also some cover. Owen Wijndal is a 20 year old left back from the Netherlands, who plays in the Dutch league with AZ Alkmaar. The flying dutchman will be on Dean Smith’s radar, although he is touted to go to a top European club to continue his development.
If Villa could gain Owen Wijndal’s services (probably for around the £20 million mark), he would not only serve as an understudy for Matt Targett, but likely take some of the pressure off the Englishman and provide a genuinely impressive alternative. Wijndal has pace and quality on the ball with his passing – according to Squawka he recovers the ball around 30% more than Matt Targett does in a game, and he loses possession less often in the first place (around 20% less losses of possession per game). This is driven by his excellent pass accuracy; 88% compared to Targett’s 73%, and his long pass accuracy which is markedly higher than Matt Targett’s. In fact, Owen Wijndal’s quality is such that his passing accuracy actually outstrips Andy Robertson’s over at Liverpool – and many would consider him one of the best left backs in the world.
What you gain in defensive solidity and passing accuracy with Wijndal you do lose, to some degree, with his through balls and crossing – which are both about half as accurate as Matt Targett’s while still an upgrade on Neil Taylor and with room to grow. In truth, Owen Wijndal will dribble more, play more intricate passes, recover the ball more, receive the ball more in the box and shoot more than Matt Targett. While Matt Targett will win more headers, cross the ball more and with greater accuracy, as well as making more clearances and interceptions than Owen Wijndal.
If Villa could pick this youngster up, he could be a brilliant addition to the match-day squad and maybe Villa could give him more chances than one of the top 6 clubs.