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Should Aston Villa Fans Be Excited About The Club’s New Focus On The Academy?

It seems like only yesterday Aston Villa were under the ownership of Dr Tony Xia, coming off of a mid-table finish in the Championship and struggling for money and direction under Steve Bruce. In the 2017-18 season Villa signed four players on permanent deals, these were John Terry, Ahmed Elmohamady, Chris Samba and Glenn Whelan. The honour of top scoring striker fell to an on-loan Lewis Grabban and player of the season, the overall top scorer Albert Adomah. Well what about the young players you may ask… Keinan Davis won young player of the season, netting 3 goals in 30 league games and Calum O’Hare took academy player of the year after leading the U23’s to the runners-up spot in the PL2.

It seemed like one final push for Xia and Bruce to take the team into the Premier League, signing former international legends such as Terry and blanking youth almost all together apart from loan deals. It almost worked with Villa finishing 4th but failing to beat Fulham in the play-off final for promotion. It left me at the time thinking, well what now? Then came the summer of 2018. The club was in turmoil, we had various players over 30 years of age draining the club of money, of which the club had none. Then it happened… On July 20th 2018 it was announced that the NSWE group would take over at Villa, and hope flourished at the club.

Instantly the club changed, with the focus on youth players coming straight in, you’d imagine from the top. NSWE stuck with Bruce at the start but began to implement their own ideals into the club hiring people like Christian Purslow within a couple of months of their takeover. So what transfers were made in 2018-19 season? A 24-year-old John McGinn was brought on-board alongside 24-year-old Freddy Guilburt. There were others like Nyland however what strikes me is the focus on youth glaring at me now despite me not being able to see it at the time, with players like Tyreik Wright, Viljami Sinsalo and Akos Odoi coming in. The funny thing is, there was another certified baller that was signed this season from the Pro:Direct Academy, a certain Jaden Philogene-Bidace. Oh and our top scorer that year just happened to be an on-loan 21-year-old Tammy Abraham.

Villa got promoted that season after besting Derby County 2-1 in the play off final after finishing 5th in the Championship and the focus on youth continued. I’ll give you guys a little run-down of our transfer windows that followed, with a focus on the players we signed that were under 25:

2019-20 – Wesley (23), Kortney Hause (25), Matt Targett (24), Ezri Konsa (22), Douglas Luiz (21), Louie Barry (17)

2020-21 – Sil Swinkels (16), Ben Chrisene (16), Ruben Shakpoke (16), Matty Cash (23), Ollie Watkins (24), Lamare Bogarde (16), Bertrand Traore (25)

2021-22 – Kyrie Pierre (15), Emi Buendia (24), Josh Feeney (16), Jayden Barber (16), Ajani Burchall (16), Finn Azaz (21), Tim Iroegbunam (19), Leon Bailey (24), Caleb Chukwuemeka (19), Finley Thorndike (19)

Now don’t think we didn’t sign more experience when we needed too with the likes of Tyrone Mings and Danny Ings signed to add some Premier League proven class to the starting 11. But all of this begs the question, is this new focus on Villa’s youth and academy something us Villa fans should be excited about?

Well let’s have a bit of a dive into it shall we? This new focus is clearly playing off, as shown by the U18’s success in the FA Youth Cup last season, beating Liverpool U18’s at Wembley thanks to goals from Aaron Ramsey and Mamadou Sylla. Now with Mile Jedinak coming in to be the loan development coach and already having an impact, seeing Louie Barry among others being loaned out to play 1st team football in the lower leagues of the English football pyramid. Now this season the U23’s will look to make a push for promotion in the PL2 division 2, starting brightly with 2 wins and 1 draw so far, sitting 2nd in the table. The U18’s will look to improve on their 5th place finish last year, impressing with a 10-0 win over Norwich in the 2nd matchday of their season and surely making a serious attempt to retain their FA Youth Cup crown.

This approach will almost certainly reap success already being shown by players like Carney Chukwuemeka, Jaden Philogene-Biace, Jacob Ramsey and his brother Aaron being heavily involved with the 1st team. There will be more to follow, players like Louie Barry will look to push for a first team spot next season and various youngsters like Josh Feeney making their case known over the next couple of seasons. If you pair our ‘golden generation’ of youngsters coming through with our strong financial position meaning we will no longer be a feeder club to the top 4 as we should be in Europe by the time these players breakthrough. Success in youth has been glaringly obvious in other countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and France but not so much in England with ‘buying power’ clubs like Man City preferring the big money boys to homegrown talent. We only have to throw a stone to Birmingham City who had Jude Bellingham come through their ranks and is now one of the brightest wonderkids in the world (my god imagine if he came through at Villa).

There are always negatives however, with this approach being a long-term one as opposed to a short-term one. These players will take time to come good in the men’s game and we won’t be winning the premier league with them anytime soon. There are always the failures as well as we have seen so many times in the great game… Ravel Morrison? Nile Ranger? Jack Wilshere? Lewis Baker? So many more names could be thrown in there, pop some down in the comment below if you can think of some I missed. We have no guarantee that players like Carney Chukwuemeka and Jaden Philogene-Bidace will be anything more than average players in two-three years, but we have hope.

So what do I think to finish this, my first blog for The AVFC Faithful off? I LOVE IT. Villa have struck the perfect balance in my opinion. Yes, we are investing heavily on youth players, of whom probably 2-4 will be regular first team players in the future, but we are also still spending big on players like Leon Bailey who are young but proven and proven players like Danny Ings who will hit the ground running and push us up the Premier League table. Its shrewd business from NSWE as well, with the constant pushing of VillaTV, creating hype around the u23’s & u18’s creates a product we all want to watch. So sit back Villans and enjoy this ride because we are literally building such a bright future whilst also improving consistently at a 1st team level, its going to be a great few years.

PS; Carney will be world-class don’t worry!

@Behind_TheBall | Edited by The AVFC Faithful

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