‘Not bad for a lad from Barnsley’ The 10 best Aston Villa transfers of the decade – Ashley Preece
Aston Villa’s summer transfer window has been nothing short of miraculous.
In fact, you could say each of the 12 summertime additions are worth every penny – and more – of the £130million spend spree .
Tyrone Mings for an initial £20million represents a steal for an England international while there’s so much more to come from the club’s two Brazilians, £15million Douglas Luiz and record-buy Wesley .
As for previous transfer windows, though, it’s fair to say Villa haven’t always got it right – far from it in fact.
All you’d have to do is look back at transactions in years gone by, most notably the oh so costly ‘Moneyball’ experiment of 2015 which backfired massively, resulting in the club’s tragic relegation.
The 2013/14 season made for pretty grim reading, too, as then-owner Randy Lerner pulled the plug as Paul Lambert spent just £19million on the likes of Libor Kozak, Jores Okore, Aleksander Tonev, Antonia Luna, Nicklas Helenius and Leandro Bacuna. Cripes.
However, fast-forward to 2019 and the club’s new transfer committee – backed by owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris – have well and truly nailed it.
Here, BirminghamLive picks out the best 10 transfers over the last decade – and there’s some real gems all right. The list, meanwhile, which has been ranked in terms of impact and importance, doesn’t feature any loans so that means there’s no place for your Axel Tuanzebes or Kyle Walkers.
10) Ron Vlaar , £3.8m from Feyenoord, August 2012
The Dutch defender arrived with a concrete reputation of being a hard man with high expectations and, on the pitch, he duly delivered. Immediately installed as Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa captain, Vlaar demanded excellence and was vital in what was a very youthful Villa side.
The experienced centre-back played alongside either Ciaran Clark or Nathan Baker and was a mainstay for Lambert as Villa eventually finished 15th after initially flirting with relegation. Vlaar scored two speculative efforts for Villa in his first season against Sunderland at home and Wigan away.
Vlaar, who stayed for three seasons, starred in the World Cup for Holland in 2014 and attracted interest from the likes of Manchester United. The defender, though, lacked pace but made up for it in heart and rallied the Villa troops at times of need. He was good for the club and a snip at less than £4m.
“It was hard there,” he said in a recent interview. “I was fighting with myself because of the lack of direction and I wanted to see some more of my team-mates trying to improve their game.”
Manager signed by: Paul Lambert
9) Stewart Downing, £12m from Middlesbrough, July 2009
Signed amid blistering form at Boro, Stewie Downing was seen as arguably the final piece in Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa jigsaw as the gaffer went about gate-crashing both the top four and Europe.
Villa had just lost Gareth Barry to Man City and the money banked was spent on Downing. Villa were knocked out of the Europa League in qualifying but made the Carling Cup Final. Initially, it took Downing time to settle and he was still competing in a talented Villa side consisting of your James Milners, Gabby Agbonlahors and Ashley Youngs.
Downing, meanwhile, made 33 starts in all competitions in his first full season (scoring two) but it was the 2010/11 campaign which saw the ex-Boro man rip it up, proving to be a real thorn in the opposition side time and time again.
Although Villa finished 9th after a trio of sixth-placed finishes, Downing proved his worth and scored eight times and registered a hat-full of assists in what was a declining Villa side, especially given how O’Neill walked out on the club in the August.
Downing’s form in helping Villa would be rewarded with a £20million move to Liverpool the following summer.
It was a short but sweet stint for Downing in claret in claret and blue who, afterwards, said of swapping Villa Park for Anfield: “It wasn’t to do with money, I’ve joined a top team, and this was the right move for me at the right time because this is a team on the way up.”
Manager signed by: Martin O’Neill
8) Tom Heaton, £8.8m from Burnley, August 2019
Now it’s relatively early days to announce Tom Heaton as Villa’s eighth-best transfer in the last decade but his importance in a Villa shirt will just grow and grow.
Villa have long been craving an experienced pair of safe hands ever since Brad Friedel called time on his Villa Park career eight years ago.
The 33-year-old has been monumental to the positive start Villa have made on their Premier League return. He’s incredibly loud, proud and backs his teammates to the hilt.
Amidst a summer of 12 new signings, Heaton’s arrival – an England GK remember – for a paltry £8.8million fee remains arguably among the bargains of the summer. The ex-Burnley man is integral for Smith both on and off the pitch. He gets into my top 10.
Manager signed by Dean Smith
7) Darren Bent, £18m from Sunderland, January 2011
Villa were struggling and were level on goal difference with 18th-placed Wigan in the drop-zone following a 1-1 draw with Blues at St Andrews. Gerard Houllier had an ageing John Carew and a not-so-prolific Gabby Agbonlahor at his disposal as well as rookie Nathan Delfouneso. The options weren’t great and the French manager persuaded Randy Lerner to open the chequebook and bring in Sunderland hot shot Darren Bent to save Villa from relegation – and Benty did just that.
Bent scored 11 for Sunderland up until January and was starting for England up front. Villa shelled out a record fee to bring the goal-getter to Villa Park and the striker duly delivered by scoring on his home debut as Villa beat big-spending Man City 1-0.
He’d go on to score nine goals from 16 games and helped Villa climb from 17th to finish in ninth. Villa had an in-form Bent at the top of their forward prong and, all of a sudden, looked dangerous.
Bent, meanwhile, would go onto secure a Villa goal record of 25 strikes from 53 starts in all competitions before falling out of favour under Lambert who signed the brilliant Christian Benteke. More on the Belgian beast later.
Manager signed by: Gerard Houllier
6) Conor Hourihane, £3.15m from Barnsley, January 2017
It’s another mid-season sale here as Steve Bruce signed the free-scoring Irishman whose contract was to expire in the summer.
Hourihane represents a solid piece of business and, after scoring his 25th for Villa against Norwich recently, said it himself: “I’ve always managed to score goals over the years and that’s my 25th for the club. That’s not too bad for a lad who’s come from Barnsley for a small amount.”
Hourihane has hit hat-tricks, late free-kicks, the lot and possesses a real knack of shoving one into the onion bag with that sweet left peg of his. He was part of the influx of Irish talent who headed to Sunderland as a young boy and wasn’t fancied at Ipswich either before signing for Plymouth.
Incredible form for Barnsley followed and, after a six-goal haul prior to January, Villa came knocking. The Cork midfielder has scored in all four of England’s divisions and continues to flourish on the biggest stage of all, the Premier League. The 28-year-old is a credit to Villa and is firmly among the best transfers made in B6 in recent seasons.
Manager signed by: Steve Bruce
Keep up to date with the latest Aston Villa news, features and exclusives from Birmingham Live via our free WhatsApp service.
Text NEWS to 07557205119 and then add the number to your phone contacts book as BirminghamLive to receive daily updates and breaking news from our Villa reporter Ashley Preece.
Your phone number won’t be shared with any other members of the group. Click here for more information on the service.
5) Fabian Delph, £8.5m from Leeds United, August 2009
OK, OK, tin hat at the ready for giving Fabian Delph a: a mention and b: a place in Villa’s best business in recent history. But Delph’s impact cannot be questioned for, at times, the proud Yorkshireman singlehandedly dragged Villa out of the mire week after week.
Signed by O’Neill near to the end of the Northern Irishman’s tenure, Delph struggled to make a real impact and was loaned back to Leeds in 2012. The potential was always there and, at 19, O’Neill beat Spurs and Man City to land Delph’s signature.
Under Lambert is where Delph began to really kick on, though, and soon became captain following Vlaar’s exit. He was the fittest player at the club by a country mile during his pomp and bossed training sessions with relative ease. Delph would go onto win supporters’ player of the year, score a dramatic goal against the Albion in an FA Cup semi-final and was genuinely brilliant in claret and blue, becoming Villa’s last England representative up until Mings earlier this week.
What can’t be undermined, though, was the all-round confusion and disloyalty prior and following his £8million move to Manchester City in the summer of 2015 – the season Villa would be relegated.
It was July 10 and Delph was booked in for a Man City medical – only to appear to make a U-turn before issuing a statement on the Villa website. He said: “I’m aware there has been intense media speculation surrounding my future in the last 24 hours and I want to set the record straight. I’m not leaving. I’m staying at the football club and I can’t wait for the start of the season and captaining this great football club.”
Less than a week later, Delph was in a Man City shirt and would go onto enjoy a trophy-laden spell at the Etihad before moving to Everton.
Manager signed by: Steve Bruce
4) John Terry, free transfer, July 2017
Another Bruce signing makes the list after the Geordie managed to persuade JT into playing one more season over a round of golf in the Algarve – and boy are Villa fans thankful.
JT, then 36, penned a one-year contract and led Villa brilliantly to the play-off final, only to heartbreakingly lose to Fulham two summers ago.
What Terry brought and instilled into the club at a time of desperate need was priceless. The captain-leader-legend shook up the Aston Villa dressing room and gave everybody a much-needed kick up the backside after what was an embarrassing season the year previous as Villa finished 13th in the Championship.
The ripples of JT’s leadership continue to be felt all around Bodymoor Heath today and he’s continued his great work by stepping up to work as Smith’s assistant alongside Richard O’Kelly. What JT’s done for Villa – and for the likes of Jack Grealish – has been incredible and, in my mind, club-defining. If it wasn’t for Terry – a serial winner – opting to step down into the Championship to help drag Villa back up then, in truth, the club might still be playing – and struggling – in that very division second-tiered today.
Manager signed by: Steve Bruce
3) Tyrone Mings, £21.5m from Bournemouth, July 2019
Tyrone Mings has just cost Villa a reported £250,000 by winning his first England cap – but the fee could be 10 times that amount and it wouldn’t matter a single jot such has been Mings’ importance in claret and blue.
Signed initially on loan by Smith on January 31, Mings’ impact has been nothing short of incredible. Smith’s Villa lost just twice in the Championship with Mings at the heart of their defence – and the centre-back was arguably the sole reason why and how Villa clinched promotion back to the Premier League.
A deal finally got done to bring Mings in on a permanent transfer after several rounds of negotiations with Bournemouth and Eddie Howe and, initially, eyebrows were raised at the fee paid for a defender with Premier League question marks swirling around him. Mings, though, has answered every single critic who fired shots at him – and then some.
Mings, still just 26, will no doubt go onto have a long and successful England career now and was the country’s shining light in Sofia this week for the way he handled abhorrent racist abuse thrown his way. Above all, though, Mings gets Villa and the colossal centre-half represents what Smith’s new-look Villa are all about: fighting for that badge and to make supporters proud and proud we most certainly are. Never mind signing of the decade, Mings should – and would – be on Villa’s signing of the century list.
Manager signed by: Dean Smith
2) Christian Benteke , £7.92m from KRC Genk, August 2012
Ohh Chris-tian Ben-teke was the song which used to beam out from the Holte End after the big, bad Belgian fired in goal after goal. What a signing the striker turned out to be, among the best forwards since your John Carews and Dwight Yorkes, arguably possessing traits of both of Villa’s legendary front men.
The little-known Belgian arrived somewhat out of the blue as Lambert’s new striker in the summer of 2012. Carew had left the summer before and Villa were after a new target man given Bent’s dip in form and the fact Lambert wasn’t too keen on the record-buy’s all-round game.
Benteke, meanwhile, took some time to settle and scored just two in 10 Premier League games but, after a real goal glut in the second half of the campaign, scored 23 goals in all competitions for Villa (39 games).
The insane strike rate would continue, too, with Benteke finishing with a Villa goal tally of 49 in 94 starts over this three-year spell. Had he continued and opted against a move to Liverpool, he’d had no doubt gone onto smash Gabby Agbonlahor’s Premier League goals record of 74 – but it simply wasn’t to be. Benteke lasted just three years before being signed by Brendan Rodgers for a whopping £32.5million. Fast-forward to 2019 and Benteke can’t hit a barn door for Palace. The grass isn’t always greener is a saying that comes to mind, eh Christian. Nevertheless, what a player who’ll go down as an all-time Villa favourite who provided supporters many a glorious afternoon and night.
Manager signed by: Paul Lambert
1) John McGinn , £2.79m from Hibernian, August 2018
It’s got to be, hasn’t it? Wee Meatball himself takes top spot as Aston Villa’s best signing of the last decade – and the Scottish hat-trick hero is worth his weight in gold. You just keep having to rub your eyes at the fee Steve Bruce paid Hibs for the all-action midfielder, who must be best-ever bargain in football history, let alone the past decade.
The 24-year-old has lit up Villa Park ever since he stepped foot on it and continues to go on from strength to strength. His first-ever Villa goal – against Sheffield Wednesday – set the tone for what was to come and McGinn ended up with seven strikes last term but, more than anything, put in body-on-the-line, man-of-the-match displays week after week in what was a relentless one-man rampage through Championship midfields.
McGinn, like Mings, embodies what Smith’s Villa are all about and remains the joker in the pack inside the dressing room but a fierce – and classy – competitor on the pitch. The Scot has continued his meteoric rise in the Premier League now and will be targeting a double-figure goal return this season.
Villa’s star player has been touted with a money-spinning move to Manchester United but Villa simply will not – and can not – sell. He’s Mr Irreplaceable and is very much at home at Villa Park, bossing it week by week while continuing to be a firm favourite among the club’s supporters. ‘We’ve got McGinn’ is the Scottish midfielder’s calling card among the masses packing into the Holte and long may that continue for, well, let’s say for another decade yet. He’s simply incredible and the Premier League’s starting to notice.
Manager signed by: Steve Bruce
*Players who just missed the shortlist include Richard Dunne (£6.8m from Man City, 2009), Idrissa Gueye (£9m from Lille), James Chester (£9.3m from West Brom).