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How Have Dean Smith’s January Signings Got On?

The winter transfer window is a chance for struggling sides to add some much-needed reinforcements, for clubs at the top end of the table to add the final jewel in their crown to kick on for success and for teams to add prodigious youngsters to their ranks on the cheap.

Aston Villa are no different and barring the lack of activity in the transfer market which matched the lack of endeavour on the field in the 2015-16 season, the Villans have regularly partaken in the mayhem that is the January window.

The January market is a volatile and unforgiving one. In recent years, for every Axel Tuanzebe, there has been a Simon Dawkins, and for every Conor Hourihane, a Grant Holt.

Before any additions are added in 2021, current gaffer Dean Smith has acquired 11 new faces with varying levels of success. Here is a closer look at the January signings under the watchful eye of Smith:

Lovre Kalinić - 4.5/10

The first signing of the Dean Smith era initially seemed to be a logical addition. Villa’s starting goalkeeper was the Norwegian Nyland, who had struggled for form and made high profile errors against Ipswich, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, leaving fans demanding a change in between the sticks. Costing an estimated £6 million, the Croatian stopper had recently taken the number one shirt for his country. After a mistake two minutes into his debut against Swansea and a later blunder as West Brom won at Villa Park, Kalinić lost his starting spot to Jed Steer and has slid out of the first team picture ever since. Such underwhelming performances left many Villans longing for the days of Gábor Király on his emergency loan. Kalinić is currently on loan at Hadjuk Split and has almost certainly played his last game for the Villa.

Kortney Hause- 7.5/10

Hause initially joined the club on a loan from local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and was snapped up on the cheap after playing an important role in securing a return to the top-flight the following summer. Whilst he currently sits behind Konsa and Mings in the pecking order, he regularly performs well when called upon. A towering performance last season against Norwich provided the foundations for a crucial victory in the survival struggle, whilst a headed finish for ten-man Villa topped off a commanding display against Crystal Palace this term. His versatility and aerial prowess have made Hause an extremely solid signing.

Jaden Philogene-Bidace- 6/10

Signed in January 2018, from the Pro: Direct Academy, this exciting young talent is currently being monitored by top teams across Europe. A more in-depth piece from earlier in the week highlighted just how well-regarded the 18-year-old is at Bodymoor Heath, missing the FA Cup clash with Liverpool as he has regularly trained with the first team. Whilst he has excelled at youth level, until he makes the breakthrough into professional football it is impossible to give Philogene-Bidace more than a six out of ten. If Villa manage to hold on to the tricky wide man, he has all the qualities, both technically and physically, to make it at the very highest level. Watch this space.

Tyrone Mings- 10/10

Tyrone Mings signed from AFC Bournemouth on loan on deadline day of the 2018 January window, and as they say, the rest is history. This deal has worked perfectly for both club and player. Mings has become an integral part of Aston Villa both on the pitch, in the dressing room and as a proud ambassador of the club and the community, whilst success has allowed the Bath-born commander to catch England manager Gareth Southgate’s eye. As Villa fans know all too well, this latter feat is particularly laborious. Mings has become a popular figure at the club and his vital blocks, clearances and even goals have been at the heart of promotion and survival. And who could forget that iconic picture of the man-mountain still in his full strip, mud stains and all, with his play off medal sat proudly around his neck at Bournemouth train station a day after the victory against Derby?

Frédéric Guilbert- 7/10

Guilbert signed for Aston Villa on the same day as Mings but was loaned back to Caen until the end of the season. In his first full season at Villa, the French full-back became a hit with fans who appreciated his refreshing honesty on social media as well as his never-say-die attitude on the battlefield. Whilst in recent times, Matty Cash has displaced Guilbert on the right side of Smith’s defence, Guilbert retains a fond reputation amongst fans of a claret and blue persuasion. Even though his future is up in the air, his strong performances and personality aided the Villa cause last year and has earned him a strong seven out of ten.

Tom Carroll- 2/10

Despite being linked with half of Swansea City’s first team squad in the 2018 window, and with a move for fellow midfielder Leroy Fer seeming far more likely, Villa opted for English pass master Tom Carroll with seconds left on the clock. Carroll showed promise in his two appearances for the club but was plagued by injuries, including a hip injury which kept him out for the season. He is now a regular for Mark Warburton’s Queens Park Rangers.

Danny Drinkwater- 1/10

With Scottish pocket rocket John McGinn side-lined, Deano and his coaching team realised a central midfielder was needed urgently. It was decided that Danny Drinkwater from Chelsea would be a sensible signing on loan. This transfer, however, is one of Smith’s most disappointing thus far. The former Premier League winner turned up at Villa low on confidence and match sharpness and struggled against a superb Manchester City side on debut. Whilst his on-field performances were disappointing enough, an alleged training ground fight with winger Jota left the Mancunian midfielder in the doghouse. He only made four appearances and is currently plying his trade in Turkey.

Pepe Reina- 7/10

The arrival of the veteran goalkeeper on loan from Italian giant’s AC Milan split opinion amongst Villa fans. Many argued he was exactly what was needed whilst an upturn in form from Nyland left others claiming a shot stopper was bottom of Villa’s priorities. Regardless, the former Liverpool stalwart turned out some crucial performances, particularly against a Troy Deeney inspired Watford, as Villa captured a seismic three points against the Hornets in January 2020. Whilst his loan was short, it was extremely sweet too, and the Spaniard won fans over with his quick reflexes and rhythmic moves when celebrating survival at the London Stadium. It never seemed likely that Reina would join Villa past the end of the season, but he won the hearts of many Villans nonetheless.

Mbwana Ally Samatta- 5/10

As Villa fans have done on many occasions, Tonev, Helenius and Kozák to name a handful, upon signing Samatta a quick search on Youtube preceded the smug feeling that this would be an extremely shrewd piece of business. His debut as the lone striker in a fantastic Carabao Cup semi-final victory over Leicester was impressive, with his hold up playing bringing others into the game a standout. Unfortunately, following the restart the Tanzanian forward was more Carlton Cole than Samagoal and whilst his performances were reasonable, his lack of goals left Villa needing midfielders and defenders to bail them out. He is still contracted to the club, although with the acquisition of Watkins and the imminent return of Wesley, Samatta will surely move on this summer. A clearly capable striker he was very possibly the right man at the wrong time.

Louie Barry- 8/10

Villa Park, via the Hawthorns and Camp Nou. Louie Barry’s fledgling career has already taken him on a unique path. The 17-year-old from Sutton Coldfield joined his boyhood heroes from Barcelona last January and has set every pitch he has stepped on alight in the 12 months that have followed. With the world watching, against the reigning Premier League champions, Barry scored a brilliant goal in the FA Cup which will have many big sides seeking his signature. Whilst he has only made one first team appearance, his future is thought to be secured at the Villa for a further six years as he looks to follow Grealish’s footsteps in becoming a local legend. He will certainly be remembered as one of the better pieces of business done by Dean Smith’s Villa in the winter market.

Borja Bastón- 1/10

The Spanish forward played two games for Villa. Allegedly. Bastón signed on a free transfer from Swansea in 2020 and was never really given a chance at the club. This possibly suggests that Bastón was not seen as a threat in training and consequently only collected 16 minutes of action in a team that was struggling for goals at the bottom of the league. The Madrid-born target man was promptly released and now plies his trade in the second tier of Spanish football. He is likely to be a tricky Sporcle quiz answer in years to come.

With the rumours picking up of potential incomings at the club, fans will hope for a few more Tyrone Mings’ and a few less Danny Drinkwater’s.

Joey Millington | Edited by The AVFC Faithful

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