Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier ponders the party he will throw once he's sold Steve Sidwell to West Ham (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
According to Stuart James' latest this could be an interesting six months for Aston Villa, with Steve Sidwell, John Carew, Curtis Davies, Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland, Stephen Warnock, Brad Friedel, Nigel Reo-Coker and Habib Beye all possibly on the outs at Villa. James lends further credence to the Sidwell to West Ham theory which has gained traction in the tabloids in recent days but now has some a bit more legitimacy to it. From the tone of James' piece it would also not come as much of a shock if Davies and/or Beye are gone by February with the rest to follow in the summer.
The two big surprises are Nigel Reo-Coker and (to a lesser extent) Stephen Warnock. Reo-Coker is out of contract at the end of this season and were he to leave Villa he would do so on a free which seems something of an undervaluing of the midfielder who has (when healthy) been one of Villa's best players on the year. Warnock has seen his form dip over the past six months or so and has been something of a liability for Villa on occasion this year but he's still fairly young and not far removed from the quality that led to his being named to England's World Cup squad over the summer. Both players are clearly somewhat attractive and likely have something to offer a lot of teams, but Villa seem determined to move in a different, more youthful direction and it might be best for all involved for the two to move on.
Something else worth drawing attention to:
The club are looking to change their recruitment strategy and will seek to target promising young talent as opposed to experienced players in the twilight of their career who come with big wage demands and have no sell-on fee. For that reason Villa have no interest in signing Robbie Keane from Tottenham Hotspur despite continued speculation.
That's noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Primarily, if this is in fact Villa's strategy going forward it is something of a departure from what we saw under Martin O'Neill (although it wouldn't be especially reasonable to call Ashley Young, James Milner, Fabian Delph and Stewart Downing "experienced players in the twilight of their career" at the time MON brought them into the club.) Less importantly (mainly because no one will listen) is James' scuttling of the Keane to Villa talk. For all of his faults, Stuart James is more well informed of the intentions of Villa where the transfer market is concerned than most other journalists, and the certainty of his tone seems to imply a certainty about his belief that Keane will not end up in claret and blue any time in the near future.
Many of us have had suspicions about where the club was headed in regards to their transfer strategy under Gerard Houllier and while this piece certainly does not serve to confirm them it does lend them a bit more credence. There's not really any reason to doubt the veracity of these claims and increasing reason to believe them. The funds coming in from the sale of these players will not allow for a Manchester City-esque shopping spree, but speculation has long been that the issue is less a scarcity of funds to spend on transfer fees and more a bloated wage budget. If that is in fact the case and these moves do happen, we could be in for a very interesting summer indeed.