The will-he won’t-he saga that was the transfer of Aston Villa captain Fabian Delph culminated Friday with the player moving up the M6 to the blue half of Manchester. Less than a week after pledging his allegiance to Villa in a statement on the club website that featured an image of him pointing to the captain’s armband on his left shoulder, Delph changed his mind and decided to further his career (and pad his bank account) at Manchester City.
Time will tell whether or not Delph made the right choice. When Manchester City come calling at Villa Park on November 7, you can be sure the home faithful will let him know exactly how they feel about him. He certainly won’t be hearing anything fit to be published on this website.
The much larger issue, though, is where the sale of Delph and the potential loss of Christian Benteke will leave Aston Villa this season and beyond. The club will hardly benefit financially by losing Delph – his release clause, just £8 million, meant Manchester City got him for a steal. A 25-year-old England international with pace, a gifted left foot, and the ability to dictate tempo and pick out any kind of pass arguably should have netted Villa a much larger profit.
The same would be true if Christian Benteke moves to Liverpool – the Belgian’s £32.5 million release clause would be a bargain for a player who scored 44 goals in 82 league games for a club with very little attacking or creative talent to supply him. If the toughest thing to do in soccer is put the ball in the back of the net, Benteke has shown he can do it, and with both feet and his head.
By comparison, Raheem Sterling, a largely unproven player at the highest level for both club and country, albeit one with supreme potential and unrivaled pace that can terrorize any defense, was sold for nearly £50 million.
More important than the financial implications of these moves for the average supporter is what these departures will actually mean for Villa on the field.
While I do believe Delph is worth more than 8 million pounds, the fact is he hasn’t shown much of an eye for goal to this point in his career. He scored just 8 times in 128 appearances for Aston Villa, although one of those was the winning tally in last season’s FA Cup semifinal against Liverpool. And too often, he settles for recycling possession horizontally or backwards rather than driving up the pitch. Delph hardly appeared to show any particular leadership qualities that merited his being handed the captain’s armband, certainly not over a more qualified figure like Ron Vlaar. Rather, I believe Delph was given that honor largely as an incentive to stay at the club.
Losing Benteke would be a much bigger blow to Aston Villa, a club that was anemic going forward last season – Villa scored only 31 goals in the Premier League, 13 of which were scored by Benteke in just 28 games. They scored 1 goal or less in 31 of their 38 league matches and were shut out on 19 occasions. This is a club far removed from the free-flowing days under Martin O’Neill with Ashley Young and Stewart Downing rampaging down the wings and providing service to a younger, more proficient Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew in front of goal, and James Milner acting as a catalyst in the center of the park without the shackles later imposed on him during his time at Manchester City
Aston Villa’s fortunes perked up considerably after dispatching the dour, conservative Paul Lambert and bringing in the more adventurous Tim Sherwood to manage the club.
Sherwood has already done some good business this summer, not only in acquiring Micah Richards for free, but by attracting Jordan Amavi, a highly-rated France U21 international who signed from Nice Saturday to play at left back opposite the rejuvenated Alan Hutton, coming with nothing but praise for his delivery, quickness, and ability to go forward, and Idrissa Gueye, arguably the best player for a club (Lille) that played in Europe last year and who could be that dynamic, box-to-box midfielder at the level Fabian Delph never quite achieved during his time in the Second City. Gueye’s £9 million price tag shows that Villa does have some ambition to strengthen and move up the table this season.
Like every Villa fan, I’ve been extremely disappointed with the club’s status over the last few seasons. I shudder to think where they would be without the performances of Christian Benteke since he arrived at the club, and if he leaves this summer, Sherwood will have his work cut out for him in finding any passable semblance of a replacement in the transfer market, though the aforementioned Agbonlahor needs to rediscover his scoring boots at long last. There is no question that Fabian Delph was a shining light with a lot of talent and his play merited earned his call-ups to the England national team, but what he brought to the team is far more replaceable. His loss, I think, will hardly be felt aside from a personal resentment from fans at the way Delph committed to the club and then ended up leaving.
I’m optimistic about the future under Tim Sherwood, and look forward to some stability with the Villa Park supporters firmly on the manager’s side and behind the players. That will be a huge difference in Villa’s fortunes – their home form was terrible last season and the atmosphere at the ground was toxic. The players seemed scared to express themselves and did not appear to draw much encouragement from, or have much confidence in, Paul Lambert. Hopefully with that resolved, a few fresh faces, and development from promising young players already at the club (perhaps Jack Grealish can take a break from nitrous oxide or pick himself up from the street in Tenerife long enough to concentrate exclusively on soccer), Villa can kick on and finish in the top half of the Premier League in 2015-16.