As Villa’s first Premier League season began to unwravel and with the club teetering on the brink of relegation, it suddenly felt like 2015/16 all over again.
There are unavoidably some glaring similarities to what supporters will remember of Hendrik Almstadt and his failed player recruitment exercise.
Pitarch, whose role as Sporting Director received increasing scrutiny as Villa’s on-field fortunes worsened, at least didn’t get sacked after opting to take a luxury overseas holiday. Almstadt infamously got his marching orders after an ill-timed break in Dubai in 2016 as Villa hurtled towards a calamitous relegation and mass redundancies loomed for the clubs backroom staff.
Those Villa fans with a reasonable memory will of course remember Randy Lerner’s ill-fated flirtation with the ‘Moneyball‘ system of recruiting, developing and ultimately profiting from player transfers. Whilst certainly simplifying the subject, the strategy essentially boils down to analysing and acquiring undervalued players, thus benefiting when they are later over-valued by opponents.
Jesus Garcia Pitarch
As Villa set about a frantic summer recruitment after an earlier than expected promotion to The Premier League, this made Jesus Garcia Pitarch (“Suso”) arguably the most important non-playing employee at the club.
Suso’s brief cannot be considered easy, operating to a budget of around £140 million pounds, he needed to identify and acquire a signficant number of players in the short close season after victory at Wembley and Villa’s opening day game at Spurs. Villa did find themselves losing senior players unfit for the Premier League (Hutton, Whelan, Jedinak etc), a problem compounded by loan deals for key first team positions coming to and end (e.g. Tammy Abrahams & Axel Tuanzebe).
Promoted teams, irrelevant of their standing in the game, have to also persuade players that they are worth the risk. 44% of Premier League sides are relegated in the first season back in the top flight. Chances of relegation also statistically increase to 66% for a team that secure promotion, as Villa did, via the Playoffs.
This places a huge emphasis on the quality of players that sides can recruit, with Villa’s dealings in the transfer and loan market appearing somewhat haphazard.
Villa looked immediately to have compromised on quality in favour of quantity. This soon started to bite, with Villa’s bench having players on it, but looking light in terms of any impact that could be made.
Danny Drinkwater looked every bit of a player who had barely played since joining Chelsea for £35 million, his career also impeded by off-field struggles. Drinkwater, who inexplicably appeared for his debut for Villa’s home hammering against Man City, is notable only for a training ground bust up with Jota and being injured.
Borja Baston was a £15m waste of money for Swansea. At a time when Villa needed goals after Wesley’s season ending injury, the Spaniard’s signing was nothing short of nonsense. Samatta has failed to deliver. Jota was signed needing a double hernia operation. Engels is plagued by an achilles complaint. Kalinic seems to be a £6m flop. Trezeguet was preferred over Benrahma.
Wesley, whilst showing some promise, does look steep when considering his £22 million price-tag. Marvellous Nakamba has struggled for form, finding himself peripheral and routinely benched.
The successes? Douglas Luiz has found his feet after a tricky start, blossoming into a midfielder with many impressive attributes. Mings has been a steady, vocal leader in a Villa defence where the faces have changed around him. Konsa, a relative rookie, was showing great promise, particularly during our survival run in of fixtures.
Whilst Villa did manage to survive on the final day, the review of Suso’s work had been ongoing, overseen by Purslow himself. Pitarch’s situation could not have been helped by remarks he made in the Spanish press that no team should be relegated from the Premier League in the event that the competition was suspended.
This prompted Villa to have to distance themselves from the Sporting Director’s comments at a time that Purslow was navigating the delicate topic of the league’s resumption with the implicatons upon the entire football club uncertain. It was widely reported that there was a ‘tension‘ existing between both Purslow and Suso, with the CEO utlimately getting the green light from the owners to act.
Suso, appointed in October 2018, was responsible for restructuring the playing squad after the change of ownership, and for laying the ‘foundations for future success’ including the reorganisation of Villa’s Academy. Aston Villa confirmed via their official site, following widespread reporting on the evening of 27th July, that Suso’s contract with the football club had “ended”.
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