On a surprisingly productive transfer deadline day Aston Villa completed their successful summer of activity, with the arrival of Lazio forward Libor Kozak and a resolution on the futures of out-of-favour Barry Bannan and Stephen Ireland. Goalkeeper Shay Given did not make it through the exit door, however.
The £6m deal for Kozak is reminiscent of last year’s deadline day signing Christian Benteke, which has since proved to be a marvellous piece of business. The Czech, who is 6ft 3in and good on the ball, is similar to Benteke in many respects, and could prove to be a potent presence in attack.
Kozak was the top scorer in last season’s Europa League with 10 goals in 11 matches, as he helped Lazio to the quarter-finals, where they eventually lost out to Fenerbahce. The run included a hat-trick against Stuttgart in the Round of 16, and a brace against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Round of 32.
The 24-year-old’s arrival at Villa Park suggests that Paul Lambert’s approach may become more one-dimensional, with Benteke and Nicklas Helenius also over 6ft. Despite their ball skills, they will often act as target men, and increase the temptation of hitting the ball high and long.
On the positive side, the signing of Kozak does show that Villa are able to attract some quality players, despite narrowly avoiding relegation in each of the last two seasons. It demonstrates that Lambert’s project is gaining considerable support from the players, even if Benteke’s commitment wavered this summer.
As far as players leaving Villa are concerned, Bannan secured a permanent move to newly-promoted Crystal Palace, and Ireland joined Stoke City on a season-long loan. Bannan was occasionally used by Lambert in central midfield last season, but was frozen out after the ex-Norwich boss found his best combination, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph and Yacouba Sylla.
He moves to Ian Holloway’s side after never really becoming a regular in the first-team. He joined Villa as a 14-year-old in 2003, and made his debut for the club in December 2008. He eventually scored two goals in 82 senior appearances, with his best run of games coming under Gerard Houllier in the 2010-11 season.
Ireland’s time at Aston Villa has been frustrating from the start. Signed from Manchester City in a swap deal for James Milner in 2010, his debut was in a 6-0 defeat away to Newcastle United, and following that disappointment he has consistently struggled to recapture the form that he showed at Man City.
He did show some glimpses of quality during Alex McLeish’s season in charge, but Ireland has found chances hard to come by under Lambert. His reunion with Mark Hughes could perhaps be the breakthrough Ireland needs in order to rediscover his form of around four years ago, which made him a very highly-rated player.
So overall, it was an excellent transfer window for Villa, and with seven players signed and some of the outcasts gone, they can now concentrate fully on matters on the pitch.
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