Have Aston Villa turned a corner after Delph’s decision to stay?
It says quite a lot that Aston Villa’s most triumphant transfer news so far this summer has been retaining the services of skipper Fabian Delph and, for the moment, resisting reported advances for sought-after striker Christian Benteke.
Keeping such key players is an achievement not to be sniffed at, especially for a club which flirted dangerously with relegation last campaign, as it looked briefly as though Villa (10/3 chances with Coral to be relegated) could be facing a Southampton-style exodus.
Wantaway defender Ron Vlaar, previously club captain, is now a free agent despite rumours he could re-sign, while loan star Tom Cleverley already snubbed the Midlands men in favour of Everton.
Back-up goalie Shay Given, plus out-of-favour forwards Darren Bent and Andreas Wiemann, both now at Derby County, may have been surplus to requirements but their squad spaces, bar Bosman stopper signing Mark Bunn, have not yet been filled with the requisite quality.
Delph’s decision to stay put is not only important on the pitch, where the midfielder is a crucial component in the side’s spine, but equally vital for appearances off it. That Tim Sherwood has not had to face losing his captain to title challengers Manchester City, shows that he has successfully steadied what previously looked like a sinking ship.
There was never going to be an abundance of cash in the Villa Park coffers for Sherwood to spend, though the former Tottenham boss managed to beat competition to free agent Micah Richards, whilst also splashing modest outlays to make winger Scott Sinclair a permanent signing and nab highly-rated Lille midfielder Idrissa Gueye.
Gueye was likely snared with Delph’s potential departure in mind, but instead Villa now boast plenty of dynamic midfield depth, which can only help over the course of a long and arduous Premier League campaign.
Can Delph’s staying power propel the Villans to a successful summer, then? Sherwood will certainly be hoping so, as things begin to look a little brighter for the Birmingham-based outfit.
Speaking about Delph’s decision, Sherwood said: “We are looking to build something here and we’re looking to keep our best players.
“Fabian [Delph] is certainly one of those. It’s just an example of the measure of the guy really that he decided to stay – the loyalty he’s shown to the fans, the football club and the chairman. And I’m delighted to have him here next season.”
A significant outlay will still be needed to shore-up the Midlands club’s backline, though Denmark international defender Jores Okore and Republic of Ireland star Ciaran Clark have both shown intermittent promise.
Out on the flanks, midfield talent Jack Grealish is another Sherwood will have to fight tooth and nail to cling on to, though this summer may be too early for the 19-year-old to move.
Benteke is a different story, and it is expected the big Belgian will eventually exit Villa Park, though his reported release clause does complicate matters. Should he not push for a move, the thought of another season of the sharpshooter in Midlands claret and blue is a tantalising one for fans.
If Villa take the money for the top marksman and run, however, mooted targets Andros Towsend and Emmanuel Adebayor are far from inspiring.
Those moves only make sense if Sherwood is strapped for cash, as the English tactician should surely be more ambitious than the Spurs fringe players he knows so well, if backed with bigger financial clout from a Benteke sale.
Powerful Benteke, who was crucial in Villa’s Premier League survival, will not be so easily replaced, despite the return Sherwood once inspired from Adebayor.
The 24-year-old has plenty of time left to prove his worth and, following lengthy problems with injury and form, may do better to follow Delph’s example for the time being and reject a deal, with his nation set to compete at Euro 2016. Big moves ahead of international competitions are always risky, and none may reap the benefits of that more than Villa, who are 2/1 for a top 10 finish.