Aston Villa F.C. – Life after Grealish at Villa Park

A Little Bit of History…

For so long, this famous Birmingham club (Tom Hanks supports them, don’t you know), has struggled to get back to the glory days of its past. The former English and European champions have had an unsettled decade, including a three-season spell in the EFL Championship after being relegated from the Premier League in 2016, but they now seem to be heading in the right direction.

A lifelong Aston Villa, manager Dean Smith has crafted an attractive and balanced team on the pitch. He started his managerial career in the lower leagues before taking over at Villa Park in 2018. Despite attracting some criticism during their first season back in the topflight in 2019, spending much of the campaign mired in a relegation scrap, a solid, entertaining Premier League team has quickly emerged.

The Aston Villa co-owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, have not been afraid to support Smith and spend big money on talented players; $19 million on Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest, $23 million each on Emiliano Martínez from Arsenal and Bertrand Traoré from Lyon and $38 million on Ollie Watkins from Brentford. Most people gulped when they heard about the price tag for Watkins; it was a massive gamble on a striker who had never played in the Premier League before. But Smith had managed the player during his time at Brentford, and the striker soon began to repay the faith by scoring 14 league goals in his debut season with the club.

2020/21 was a fantastic season for the club; moving up six places in the final league table, from 17th in 2019/20 to 11th, was a great achievement. Villa scored 55 goals and only conceded 46 during the 20/21 season. In fact, their Goals against tally was just two less than second place Manchester United. They also picked up some great results, particularly the stunning 7-2 demolition of defending champions Liverpool at Villa Park in October 2020.

The Season Ahead

The biggest news story of the summer so far for Aston Villa, and the Premier League as a whole, is the $138 million sale of Jack Grealish (below) to Manchester City, a British transfer record. It had been a long rumoured move, and one can only imagine how far City manager Pep Guardiola can take this uber-talented player. At just 25-years-old, he’s already established himself as one the most creative and dynamic midfielders in Europe. Everything went through Grealish at Villa, he controls the tempo of the game for his team, creating chances and scoring goals, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he slips into a team of superstars at the Etihad Stadium.

But Villa are hardly mourning the loss of their wunderkind too much; the owners have already opened their cheque book once again. First came the purchase of Argentine player Emiliano Buendia for $45 million from Norwich City, and then splashing $34 million each on Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen and Danny Ings (below) from Southampton. Rumour has it that the club is not finished yet, and are eyeing up moves for James Ward-Prowse from Southampton and Norwich midfielder Todd Cantwell, who many people believe could be Grealish 2.0.

There have also been several departures from Villa Park, including Ahmed El Mohamady, Neil Taylor and Lewis Brunt, who have all been released, and Tom Heaton, who has moved to Manchester United.

The big question that Aston Villa face will be the same for all clubs that are hovering around the mid-table positions; do they have what it takes it push themselves further up the league, and even the challenge the big four teams for the rarefied air of the Champions League places? Many teams have tried and failed in the past to make this huge jump. Fan expectations go up, the pressure grows, and irritation sets in when the team doesn’t achieve what is expected. Managers, who had once been heralded for their achievements, find themselves facing the axe when the grumbling from supporters/media sets in.

But it’s a nice problem to have; better to be battling for a top six finish than trying to escape a bottom three relegation…

Location Aston, Birmingham

Founded 1874

Stadium Villa Park (42,749 capacity)

20/21 Final League Position 11th

Opening Game of 21/22 Season away at Watford

21/22 Predicted Final League Position 7th

It’s a marathon not a sprint at Aston Villa, and steady progress is key. Grealish might be gone, but a few more great seasons under Smith, and continued investment in talented players, and this club could once again be a serious contender.

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