In addition to Aleksandar Tonev, Paul Lambert has signed two more promising youngsters from around Europe, rather than opting for players with Premier League experience. Leandro Bacuna, 21, joins Aston Villa from Groningen of the Dutch Eredivisie, while 20-year-old Jores Okore, part of the Nordsjaelland team who won the Danish title in 2012, arrives on a four-year deal.
Both are highly rated and were the subject of interest from other clubs. According to Metro,
In spite of their age they both have considerable experience, with Okore having already won a league championship and played in the Champions League last season where Nordsjaelland were in effect the minnows of Group E, drawing with Juventus at home but otherwise being on the wrong end of heavy defeats. However, this experience should be beneficial for Okore’s development, and to Aston Villa, with very little Champions League experience within the existing squad.
Okore also has seven caps for Denmark, and will surely strengthen a defence which was one of the weakest in the Premier League in 2012/13. This could also mean that Nathan Baker, who recently signed a new contract, is restricted to fewer appearances after a long run in the side last season. The number of appearances made by Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd, who will be returning from injury, could also be affected.
Dutch U-21 international Bacuna has already received praise from Lambert for his versatility, as while he mainly operates as an attacking midfielder, he can also play on the right. After scoring five goals in 33 league appearances for Groningen last season, Bacuna looks to have plenty to offer Villa with his energy and determination.
These two signings ensure that besides in goal with Shay Given’s seemingly imminent departure, Paul Lambert now has cover in all positions and several options to choose from. The early signs are promising ahead of next season, with all the players brought in so far arriving with some experience and ambition.
Villa’s summer activity is clearly not over, as another Danish side, Aalborg, have confirmed that they are in talks to sell 22-year-old striker Nicklas Helenius. Helenius, who has two caps for Denmark and scored 16 league goals last season, represents another statement of intent from Paul Lambert as he hopes to guide his team towards the top half in 2013-14.
Being 6ft 5in in height, the possibility of signing Helenius could also raise further questions about the future of Christian Benteke and if he is being touted as a possible replacement, with rumours persisting that Benteke might be leaving for clubs including Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. A strike partnership of Benteke and Helenius looks unlikely with both having very similar strengths. It has been an encouraging summer so far, however.
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