The summer window closed amid of a flurry of transfer activity. The loudest move was undoubtedly AS Monaco striker Radamel Falcao transferring to Manchester United.
But the summer period was dotted with some other spectacular big-name moves: Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez to Real Madrid, Angel Di Maria to Manchester United and Luis Suarez to Barcelona.
In all, Premier League clubs alone spent £835 million during the most recent transfer window.
After scoring seven times in his first four Premier League matches, Diego Costa’s £32m transfer from Atletico Madrid to Chelsea has many football experts solidifying Jose Mourinho’s side as the clear favorite to lift the domestic trophy at the conclusion of the season. The London club were already being touted as title contenders. But Costa’s arrival and the ease which he has settled into his new surroundings has been immediate and emphatic.
With that said, Aston Villa may have quietly trumped all of their English and European compatriots with the club’s summer dealings – and the Villans only spent £6m on player transfers.
That’s because Villa’s biggest summer move wasn’t a player acquisition, it was manager Paul Lambert’s decision to ask Republic of Ireland assistant and former Manchester United captain Roy Keane to join his coaching staff.
Prior to the start of the 2014-15 Premier League campaign, Lambert and West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce were the English bookies’ favorites to be first league bosses “sacked”.
There was some concern by hiring Keane – a former manager with Sunderland and Ipswich Town – that Lambert had in essence hired his own replacement.
But what was considered to be a career gamble by Lambert (according to some experts) has turned out to be an early season success for Aston Villa and its third-year manager. The impact of Keane’s arrival at the Birmingham club has been immediate and noticeable.
The former Republic of Ireland international and Manchester United captain is well-known for his fierce competitiveness and no-nonsense attitude on-and-off the pitch. Keane was never one to shy away from a hard tackle, or to take on an opposing club’s player (see: Alf-Inge Haland, Alan Shearer and Patrick Vieira).
Despite his frame (5’10”), Roy Keane was one of the most menacing figures in all of European football during his playing career. The Irishman was widely respected for his leadership and ability to galvanize a squad during his playing career. He also never backed down from a confrontation – whether it was with an opponent, a teammate or his own manager.
It now appears that Keane’s style of play is rubbing off on Paul Lambert’s players at Aston Villa.
During his first two seasons at Villa, the Scottish manager has seen his side twice finish 15th on the BPL table.
Those are respectable finishes for a club whose owner has put the club “on the market” and has spent little to no money towards bringing in new talent to Villa Park.
But currently, the Villans are sitting in second place in the league standings; two points behind Chelsea and three points ahead of last season’s champions, Manchester City.
Of course, it’s very early in the season and there are many more matches to play.
But you would be hard pressed to find a single person – outside of a few thousand Villa supporters – who would have thought Lambert’s men would be on ten points after their first four BPL matches; with their latest conquest being a 1-0 defeat of Liverpool at Anfield.
Prior to the start of this season, Aston Villa had an issue with several high-earning, underachieving players and boasted the Premier League’s youngest lineup. That combination lead to the club finishing fifteenth on the BPL table in back-to-back seasons.
Fast forward to today, Lambert’s side are a hard tackling, no-nonsense, organized group who walk into every match feeling as though they are going to impose their collective will on the opposition.
Those who watched last weekend’s match at Anfield, witnessed the individual battles Villa players were having with Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli. It appeared as if each Aston Villa defender was waiting for the match official to focus his attention elsewhere on the pitch, so they could in turn take a quick ‘shot’ at the £16m signing from AC Milan.
That toughness has become the team’s calling card. But what can’t be dismissed from the Villans first four matches is the tactical awareness and cohesion displayed by the players of the pitch.
Those combined elements are the direct result of Lambert and Keane’s influence on the club.
Aston Villa will be put to the test over the next few weeks with matches against: Arsenal (h), league-leading Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h) and Everton (a). After a trip to Loftus Road to face QPR, the Villans then host Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park.
[Programming note: Aston Villa vs Arsenal will be shown LIVE on Saturday morning starting at 9:45am on NBC Sports Network]
Some clubs would look at those fixtures as a daunting task. But on the strength of the summer signing of Roy Keane, there’s no question Paul Lambert and Aston Villa will be relishing another opportunity to go to battle with the Premier League’s big boys.
And Villa supporters have already taken notice of Keane’s influence on the team.
(Credit to GarethRDR on Villa Talk for this picture)
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