With Chairman Randy Lerner now promising to make significant funds available to boss Martin O’Neill during the summer, Aston Villa will certainly be looking to build on this season’s sixth-place finish in the Premiership and respectable runs to the final of the Carling Cup and semi-final of the FA Cup.
For two years running, fans at Villa Park have had to ensure the pain of watching their side stutter towards the end of the campaign and see their challenge for the European spots slowly fade away.
In as early as January alarm bells were ringing in the West Midlands over Villa’s lack of firepower. With England striker Gabby Agbonlahor spending long periods watching from the sidelines with injury, O’Neill was forced to rely largely on the abilities of John Carew and Emile Heskey to fire his side up the table – neither of whom can be described as prolific. 19-year-old Nathan Delfouneso has also made a dozen appearances in the Claret and Blue over the season but could only find the net three times and looks as if he is one for the future.
Villa duly ended the campaign with the worst goal difference in the top seven and scored 15 goals less than fourth-placed Tottenham as they yet again fell shy of Champions League qualification.
The statistics don’t lie and O’Neill will be painfully aware that bringing in an effective striker must be right at the top of his shopping list over the coming months. With 11-goal midfielder James Milner looking set to leave for Manchester United, the ex-Celtic boss must start looking immediately at bringing in some much needed firepower.
Robbie Keane has been touted as a possible candidate. Surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane, the Ireland international has finished top scorer at Celtic during a loan spell with the Scottish club and was named their Player of the Season. The former Leeds and Liverpool frontman has a proven record in the Premiership but may opt to stay North of the border.
Ruud Van Nistlerooy could also be what Villa require. The Dutchman scored 95 goals in 150 appearances for Manchester United during a five year stay in England and has bagged 64 caps for Holland. The talented poacher was linked to the club in January whilst out of favour at the Bernabeu but was tempted away to Hamburg instead. The cost of bringing in such a talent could prove prohibitive with Van Nistelrooy reportedly earning £100,000 a week in Germany and now playing regular footballer.
Lerner has ruled out spending fees in the region of £30m but that could prove short sighted given the riches of European football. For a Chairman who has recently had to come out fighting and underline the level of his ambition for the club, a big name forward (and thus an expensive one) could be exactly what he needs.
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