Steve Bruce’s managerial credentials are to be tested like never before this season as he battles financial restrictions at Villa Park.
Bruce had been able to buy the best in the Championship with the likes of Jonathan Kodjia, but after a summer of discontent he’s left to scrabble around for the bargain buys.
In his own words, he’s going to have to beg, steal and borrow this season.
It isn’t the first time the former Manchester United defender has used that phrase either, the signs were perhaps ignored in January when he came out with exactly the same quote regarding the January window.
Back then he borrowed, namely Lewis Grabban, but ultimately to no avail.
There will be no Grabban this summer, no big-money buy to grab the goals, but shrewd management and cautious spending.
Even if Jack Grealish is cashed in, Villa are unlikely to throw the money around like confetti. They’ve gone from the brink of the Premier League to the brink of financial ruin in one goal, namely Tom Cairney’s 23rd minute Wembley winner in May.
Now, more than ever before, Steve Bruce is set to be tested. In his twenty years as a manager, a career spanning eight clubs, he’s rarely faced such a challenge of his skills. at Birmingham, Crystal Palace and Hull he had money at his disposal, not life-changing amounts but enough to fend off opposition.
Whilst grey clouds appear to be forming over Villa Park, there is still plenty to be positive about too. Andre Green is surely set to break through this season, especially with the expected exodus of players. Villa have produced some great talent in the past, from Eric Lichaj to Nathan Baker and back to Jack Grealish. They can keep tapping into that excellent academy to bring players through who cost little more than time and the usual youth budget.
There’s also the potential in cheaper players that often gets missed. Sam Gallagher has been linked with a move to the Midlands today, a cheap replacement for Jonathan Kodjia, but a player with potential and Championship experience. It isn’t always the big money buys that produce the goods, even Kodjia was relatively cheap one season before he joined Villa.
Then there’s the unbelievable pull of Villa park itself. Any aspiring Championship player would only need to take one look at the ground, soaked in history and primed for top-flight football and surely commit their future. If it was a choice between Villa and Brentford, Millwall, Rotherham or a host of other clubs likely to be fishing in the same waters, there could only ever be one choice.
Steve Bruce’s hand aren’t tied behind his back, despite the financial situation. He isn’t fighting a losing battle and has a lot of other elements on his side, but he’s going to have to be wise to what he can offer and not get too hung up on what he can’t.
No, Villa will not be in for Vydra, probably not Jack Marriott and certainly not Massimo Loungo. Instead, it is time to use the experience, the contacts and the scouts to unveil the next generation of Villa heroes, those who develop their potential at Villa Park, not a season or two before they join.
If Steve Bruce pulls it off, he can perhaps then truly be classed as a top manager.
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