The transfer window isn't even officially open, and yet Villa have been able to pull off some truly incredible business. From bringing in Philippe Coutinho on a permanent deal, to beating Atletico Madrid to the much coveted signature of Boubacar Kamara, and even coming out of nowhere to sign Sevilla centre-back, Diego Carlos. There's no doubt Steven Gerrard is assembling a squad in his image. Hopefully, a team of winners. With even more signings still rumoured, and some big names linked with moves out of the club, it very much feels out with the old, and in with the new. But why make such drastic changes? Especially given how most of the fanbase is quite fond of this group of players. Aston Villa finishing 14th place in the Premier League and wanting to improve is of course the obvious answer to this question! I can't help but feel there's more to it, though. It's no secret that Gerrard hates to lose.
In what was probably Gerrard's most telling post-match interview to date, following the 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal, the Villa head coach blasted interviewer Des Kelly and finished by saying "I care, I don't like getting beat". Although this outburst ended up with handshakes and smiles, what Gerrard said spoke to his mindset. Not just his overall winning mentality, but also how he feels about this current set of players. Before the interview really spiced up, Gerrard was not hiding away from criticising his players, saying; "I believe certain individuals lacked belief. It's difficult to execute a game plan if not everybody believes in it"
This isn't the first time he's called out the mentality of certain unnamed players, it's become quite obvious that if a player doesn't share the same 'win at all costs' mindset as Gerrard, he probably doesn't want them at Villa Park. With this in mind, it's really no surprise how aggressive Villa are acting in the transfer market right now. Gerrard wants winners, and the club is trying to provide him with just that. Diego Carlos is probably the biggest example of this. There have been many people who have expressed a concern over Diego Carlos' overly aggressive style of defending. Well this is exactly what Gerrard wants. For the longest time now, Aston Villa has been a really nice team, probably too nice. Funny, friendly, and even passionate, these characteristics are dotted throughout the squad, and most of us have rightfully loved it. We feel a special connection to this group of players because of this.
Whether it's John McGinn dancing around as a Christmas turkey, Jacob Ramsey living out every Villa fan's dream, or Tyrone Mings calling out politicians and doing incredible work for the community, it's been all too easy to fall in love with this team. Now, I'm not for one second saying this sort of thing should stop as the players I've just mentioned, especially Mings, are a credit to Aston Villa Football Club. What I am saying, though, is that Villa also need a nasty side to them as well, especially on the pitch. The final game of the season was one of many examples of Villa's soft underbelly. A term which we've heard a lot when talking about this side. The second that Manchester City smelt blood, we all knew Villa's 2-0 lead would end up in a Villa defeat. This seems to happen again and again, and is a longstanding issue given the exact same scenario played out at home to Wolves under Dean Smith earlier in the season.
Although Gerrard would go on to praise the effort that the team put in against City, make no mistake that he would have been fuming at that result. He was also probably left wondering whether having a few aggressive characters, like Diego Carlos, would have made a difference in slowing down or even stopping the Man City onslaught. Of course, one centre-back isn't going to make all the difference when it comes to this issue. That's probably why the links to other players continue to surface. Enter Luis Suarez.. maybe.
Suarez has been linked to Aston Villa pretty much since the day Gerrard was hired, and even more so following the arrival of Philippe Coutinho in January. It was during the winter transfer window that I wrote an article simply titled: Suarez, No Thank You. There are points in that article which I still strongly stand by, if he's going to cost too much and break the wage structure, then Villa shouldn't do it. If his age means he can't perform at a top level, then Villa shouldn't do it. When it comes to Saurez's well-known antics however, maybe it's what Villa need. Of course I am not talking about the Patrice Evra incident, that was disgusting and I'd be nothing but ashamed if he ever did anything like that while wearing claret and blue. But when it comes to the way Suarez winds up opposition players and supporters, time-wastes, shouts at referees, and tries to win at all costs.. then maybe it's what we need to actually win more games than we lose. Not to mention he's still a top quality striker who knows exactly where the back of the net is!
The only player Villa currently has in the squad who seems to genuinely have this mentality is Emi Martinez, and let's be honest, we love it when he time-wastes and kills the opposition's momentum when we're winning, so more of that please! There's definitely a 'if you can't beat them, join them' feeling around Gerrard and the club's transfer strategy. If you look at all the elite teams, nobody really likes them. Partly because they win all the time, but partly because those teams often play dirty and do whatever is needed to get the win. We're told that nice guys always finish last, or maybe in 14th. Well Villa no longer wants to be nice. After all, we are the Villans of this league, let's start acting like it.
It's not all about playing the villain, however, it's also about simply having that winning mentality throughout the squad. Gerrard has already said that's the reason he brought in Coutinho, the former Champions League winner knows how to get the job done. We should fully expect other signings to follow this trend. Even the arrival of Boubacar Kamara, taken from under the noses of a massive club like Atletico Madrid, shows the club's ruthless intentions going forward. Although there will likely be some big-name outgoings on the horizon as well, potentially players who we all love and will miss, it's worth remembering what Gerrard said about certain individuals lacking belief. The Aston Villa team could look VERY different come the start of next season, let's just hope it results in more wins, even if it comes at the cost of no longer being the good guys.