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Aston Villa have spent over £350 million since returning to the Premier League, and another busy summer is inevitable under Steven Gerrard.
With the financial backing and ambition of owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, Villa will be one of the most active clubs in the transfer window and quality recruitment is crucial to Gerrard’s hopes of progress.
Gerrard has already delivered a statement of intent by signing Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona, with the Brazil international agreeing a pay cut of over 70 per cent to complete a £17m move.
The Villa head coach wants at least two other major signings, with Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips a leading target. There are other priorities, including a centre-back, left-back and forward, while a number of player exits are also expected over the next few months.
Gerrard will be an influential figure in the recruitment process: indeed, his office at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground is next door to the scouting department and preparations are already well underway.
“I’m fully involved in recruitment and I know how important it is in the modern game,” said Gerrard.
“Myself, Johan [Lange, sporting director] and Christian [Purslow, chief executive] speak regularly, and I’m in constant dialogue with the owners as well.
“We’re all aligned in terms of the targets we want. The most important part of recruitment is your own eyes, what you see and feel, and what areas need support and addressing.”
Work into this summer’s transfer window started late last year when Gerrard was appointed.
Targets are identified and Gerrard works closely with the scouting team into constant reviewing of performance data before lists are narrowed.
The intention is always to ensure multiple options in each position they want to fill and it’s then about executing deals within a budget. Discipline and patience are the watchwords.
Clearly, there has been a shift in transfer policy since Gerrard replaced Dean Smith in November. Under Smith, the model was essentially to sign players under the age of 25 with resale value.
Within days of Gerrard’s arrival, he identified a lack of experienced “game-ready” players in their late 20s as a key issue to address. Lucas Digne, 28, signed from Everton in January on wages over £100,000 a week but, quite simply, would never have figured on Villa’s radar during Smith’s tenure.
Phillips is understood to be high on their wishlist this summer, and Leeds will demand £60m having avoided relegation, though the price would have halved if the club had dropped into the Championship.
Another factor in Phillips’ future could be decided by which agency he signs for in the summer, as his contract is due to expire with his current representative, former Leeds player Kevin Sharp. Gerrard's assistant Gary McAllister, an ex-Leeds captain, will be important in the sales pitch.
Yves Bissouma, the Brighton midfielder, is another long-term target with his contract expiring at the end of next season. Villa offered £25m for the Mali international in the first week of the January window and are considering another bid this summer.
Gerrard is also looking to strengthen at centre-back. Liverpool’s Joe Gomez has been discussed but there is now a sense that the England international will sign a new contract at Anfield.
The Rangers defender Calvin Bassey, outstanding in the Europa League final defeat by Eintracht Frankfurt, appeals to his former manager due to his versatility as he can play in the centre or left of a back-three.
While Villa unquestionably have spending power, there is also a determination to work within a budget so they are scouring the market for free agents: Burnley’s James Tarkowski is under consideration, while Gerrard, Purslow and Lange recently flew out to France to watch Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara [team-mate Duje Caleta-Car is also on Villa’s radar].
Signing a new centre-back was the intention even before Ezri Konsa sustained a knee injury earlier this month, though there are now hopes he could be fit for pre-season.
There will also be moves to trim Gerrard’s squad: with a new style of play, there will be players who inevitably become redundant and are free to depart.
Matt Targett, Morgan Sanson, Bertrand Traore, Anwar El Ghazi, Trezeguet and Kortney Hause are likely to be available this summer.
Villa do not anticipate any major departures: John McGinn and Ollie Watkins have admirers but are regarded as key players in Gerrard’s revolution.
Michael Beale, Gerrard’s highly-rated assistant, has been the subject of interest from clubs in the Championship and League One but Villa are confident of keeping him.
The only doubt is over youngster Carney Chukwuemeka, who has a long-term contract offer which remains unsigned amid interest from Bundesliga clubs.
Gerrard, and Villa, know the next few months will be pivotal in the club’s mantra of pursuing “continuous improvement”.
This campaign overall will be viewed as a disappointment, as the pre-season target was to try and finish eighth. Instead they finished 14th.
Gerrard has frequently referred to the summer as crucial, admitting he already knows who he wants to sign.
Next season is the time when he can be properly judged.