Young and Hungry No More
I found myself surprised to read that Celtic fans were excited about the imminent arrival of satellite launcher and moon botherer, Aleksandar Tonev. In that moment I finally realised that football no longer makes sense. None more so than at Villa.
Aleksandar Tonev had arrived at Parkhead for a medical ahead of a proposed season long loan. The immortal line, 'Sky Sports understands,' then followed: Tonev was indeed a Hoops player for the season with an option for the Glasgow giants to make the deal permanent at the end. New Celtic boss Ronny Delia was quick to herald the Bulgarian's arrival:
"Aleksandar's a very quick player and he has two good feet which he can shoot with."
Delia was certainly not wrong: Tonev can't half shot. He'll shoot from everywhere. He'd probably shoot from the team bus if you let him though unfortunately what Delia failed to point out is that Tonev has the all the aim of a blind hen, yet this is news to Celtic who are excited to land such a "quick player."
Indeed, so eager were Celtic that some papers reported that they had spent the weekend 'thrashing.' out a deal with Villa. Thrashing out a deal? Really? I imagine as soon as we got the call the Lerner jet was taxing with Tonev strapped to the landing gear. We probably just wanted to know two things: how much do you think you can give us for him and where do you want us to drop him?
Terrace humour aside, the Tonev debacle represents everything wrong with Lambert's particular take on a 'young and hungry' vision. At the fag end of the Martin O'Neil era I was certainly not immune to its appeal. I was quite sick of millionaire, apathetic bench warmers by then and Lambert was offering something fresh. More to the point, it was an incredibly cheap alternative and would have been greatly appealing to a cloth cutting Randolph Lerner and his desire to cull our ever spiralling wage bill. So began the process of looking for diamonds in coal buckets.
No doubt that such an approach has its place, though with Sylla, Helenius, Bowery and Tonev what we actually got when we stuck our hand in the coal bucket was coal. No diamonds there. No sir. Not even a zircon, and all the while our own young and hungry crew continued to be starved of first team football, replaced by players who offered little more than they could. Those players have now left along with the maturing and improving Marc Albrighton ( who was not even offered a deal) and hot prospect Samir Carruthers, who has now joined MK Dons permanently.
This does not make sense. Surely we must ask why Samir Carruthers wasn't given the Bulgarian's game time and a proper chance to prove himself or why Albrighton was not given a new deal? Both would have been better that the Bulgarian yet Lambert stubbornly stuck with Tonev, a player so utterly out of his depth both in terms of quality and impact that, despite his small wage and the low risk transfer fee you have to ask whether such a deal made any sense at all to anyone at B6 other than the player and his agent. Ironically, we now find ourselves looking for an a new winger\wide player with both Scott Sinclair and Victor Moses rumoured.
Lambert has now shifted to recruiting experienced players having finally realised that his wonderful Norwich blueprint does not fit at a club of Villa's stature. In truth he did not need to abandon it only add key experienced players to the blend yet what we are experiencing is a U-turn with his young and hungry recruits bombed out of Villa. However, in budget ridden Villa what 'experience' translates to so far is Joe Cole; a player with an awful track record with injuries, so much so that his injuries are likely to get injured - and indeed, after one pre-season game he was injured. His reported £25k a week is now starting to sound expensive yet with no midfielder signed Villa have sent Daniel Johnson out on loan. Is he not even good enough for the bench, we ask? Meanwhile the one decent young midfielder we did once sign - Fabian Delph - has not yet been offered a new deal. His stock is rising and yet we are dithering with a heartbeat player in a key position.
The confusion does not end there. With Aly Cissokho arriving at left back, Joe Bennett must now be looking at maps of the Turkish league and bricking himself. Bennett is the one young and hungry player who has actually improved yet he is now out on the fringes and unlikely to get much game time. Don't forget that the player who originally replaced him, 23 year old Antonio Luna, has also gone: out on a season long loan at Hellas Verona having come a cropper at struggling Villa. It should be said at this point that Aly Cissokho is not a left back messiah. He struggled in a rampant Liverpool side having flattered to deceive yet Lambert is now determined to add experience. Of course, underneath all these left backs is another left back: No.35 Enda Stevens, a player who was certainly no worse than Luna or Bennett when they both arrived. Yet Stevens has not even had a sniff and has had to rely on loan spells. Again, should we have not given him more game time than start a dance with form crashing Luna? Either way that is three young left backs we have gone through in the time that Lambert has been here.
Of course the jewel in the U-turn crown and the death of Lambert's 'young and hungry' vision has been the return of the bomb squad. That's right: the players we could not afford to keep, that no club wanted to buy or could afford, who trained away from the first team squad because they were just too expensive for us to play them (even though we were paying them - work that one out?) are now back in the first team squad. Should we see their return as an admission of failure on behalf of the manager or just a desperate attempt to add experienced bodies to a struggling young squad? Whatever your answer, one things is for certain: Lambert's 'young and hungry' vision came spectacularly undone at Aston Villa. Piece of coal anyone?