Lambert on track
Paul Lambert took a gamble last season but Pete Hall feels Aston Villa's summer additions show that the Scot was right to maintain his faith in young players and is expecting big things this season.
By Pete Hall Follow @Pistolpeteh86
Last Updated: 02/08/13 3:50pm
After only narrowly avoiding relegation last season, a section of the Aston Villa support had begun to lose faith in boss Paul Lambert's transfer policy, with established Premier League stars overlooked in favour of inexperienced, young talent.
But this summer, whilst many of his counterparts have been left floundering in their pursuit of various targets, Lambert concluded his business early. He has brought in some exciting prospects, assembling a fledgling squad capable of better for the coming season.
And after unexpectedly being able to persuade the sought-after Christian Benteke to pen a new deal at the club, the future certainly looks bright in Claret and Blue.
Securing Benteke's services is arguably the biggest coup of the summer, after Lambert persuaded the Belgian hitman to withdraw his transfer request to sign a new four-year contract.
Benteke was involved (assisted or scored) in 48.9% of his side's goals as they struggled to stave off relegation last season, compared to Robin van Persie (43.8%), Luis Suarez (41.8%) and Gareth Bale (40.3%) - a contribution that would be almost impossible to replace.
Lambert seems to have a knack of getting his man, with many of his acquisitions in the close season having turned down interest from higher-profile clubs to make the move to the Midlands.
"I have a good feeling it was the right decision to turn down Chelsea. Paul Lambert has said all the right things and that has caught my attention. This is going to be good," Danish centre-back Jose Okore said upon arrival.
The 20-year-old impressed the Blues when facing them in the Champions League with FC Nordsjaelland, but still opted to join Lambert's revolution, despite the prospect of further Champions League football.
At 6ft 5ins, Okore's fellow Dane Nicklas Helenius - last season's Player of the Year in the Superliga - offers a different option up front, and could act as the perfect foil for the pace of Andreas Weimann and club-record goalscorer Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Werder Bremen had earmarked winger Aleksander Tonev as a potential replacement for Chelsea's Kevin De Bruyne when he returned to west London from his loan spell, but the Bulgaria international opted for Villa, as did Antonio Luna, who also had several options before moving from cash-strapped Sevilla.
"For every player who's coming in, it's good to find themselves in a team and an environment such as this," declared Leandro Bacuna upon arrival from FC Groningen, which sums up the feeling around the club at the moment.
Despite their relative football infancy, the new arrivals in the Midlands have the credentials to be a success in England, and with established Premier League players cast further aside, Lambert is not afraid to stick to his philosophy.
The clear indication of the Scot's intent came when the club announced their squad numbers for the coming season with Charles N'Zogbia, Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland and Alan Hutton handed the 36, 39, 40 and 41 shirts respectively.
Having only narrowly avoid relegation, whilst depending on Benteke so heavily, it seems a bold move by Lambert to clearly disregard the likes of club-record signing Bent, who has an impressive scoring record at all levels. However, it's a decision that is showing all the signs of justification.
Villa survived thanks to a vast improvement towards the business end of last season, losing only three of their final 10 games, with the same youthful side Lambert has placed so much faith in throughout the campaign.
The form of Matt Lowton and Nathan Baker in that period aided this turnaround immensely, and repaid Lambert for not turning to older heads to steer the club clear of the drop zone.
Make of its significance what you will, but Villa have only suffered defeat once in pre-season, and have enjoyed five-goal successes in their past two outings, despite fielding so many new faces.
Building on the momentum from their end-of-season improvement, Lambert's values are starting to herald results, and the new boys are more than capable of ensuring last season's woes are confined to the history books.