Wanted by Lambert, then became a “monster”: Aston Villa had a mare on £22m-rated ace
3 minute read
Aston Villa have had a tumultuous journey over the past two decades, an encapsulation of the turbulence of English football and the knowledge that even the most distinguished of clubs can fall prey to the all-engulfing, unrelenting nature of the sport.
Clinching three successive sixth-place finishes in the Premier League from 2006/07 to 2008/09 under Martin O’Neill seems a lifetime ago; a faded memory, like a pleasant dream which cannot quite be recalled with exact clarity.
Those weren’t the club’s glory days, not quite the rapture of the 1982 European Cup triumph, or the top-flight crown in the previous year, but fond memories of sustained consistency in-and-around the the upper end of the division nonetheless.
What ensued certainly did not follow the purported script. The club started solidly following O’Neill’s shock resignation five days before the start of the 2010/11 season, with Gerard Houllier stepping in to record a ninth place finish.
However, a plummet from prominence resulted in some close shaves near the relegation zone for several years before it finally caught up with them in 2016 as they dropped out of the Premier League for the first time, with the Villans then spending three consecutive seasons in the Championship.
Such harrowing memories might have never materialised had Paul Lambert, who managed the club from 2012 to 2015, been successful in his pursuit of one Romelu Lukaku, who has gone on to have quite a prolific career.
In a book called ‘Big Deal! 100 Managers, Their Greatest Signing and The One Who Got Away’ (as relayed by Birmingham Live), Lambert detailed several signings that he attempted to land while he took to the dugout at Villa Park, indeed reminiscing on his efforts to land Lukaku during the Belgian striker’s first spell at Chelsea.
Lambert said: “When I came into Villa it was clear the loan market was going to be a requirement for us if we wanted to bring quality in.
“Prior to signing Benteke, I spoke to (Romelu) Lukaku, and we also looked at signing (Kevin) de Bruyne on loan – when they were both kids at Chelsea.”
Would Lukaku have prevented relegation?
Definitely, are you kidding?
Nah, Villa were doomed
Lambert did sign a Belgian striker for Villa in 2012, but it wasn’t Lukaku. Instead, Christian Benteke arrived from Genk for £7m, a deal which indeed proved to be a resounding success.
In 2014, Everton ended up signing the offensive “monster” that is Lukaku – as dubbed by sport writer Thierry Nyann – for £28m, where he went on to score 87 goals from 166 appearances, including eight goals from nine matches in the 2014/15 Europa League.
Lukaku would likely have pushed for a departure from the Midlands in search of Champions League football, as he did with the Toffees. However, the fee that Manchester United paid to prise him away from Goodison Park – potentially rising to £90m – could have provided the Villa hierarchy with the perfect tools to rejuvenate the team and steer it away from the danger which crept closer with each passing year before their eventual top-flight demise.
Lukaku has scored 276 goals from 573 appearances at club level and a further 68 from 104 outings for Belgium. With such an unrelenting record from the now 29-year-old, Lambert’s failure in his pursuit of him in 2012 will indeed be a bitter pill to swallow for a fan base which has indeed endured a rollercoaster of emotion over recent years.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and while Aston Villa now look towards brighter horizons with four-time Europa League winner Unai Emery at the helm, the tumble into the Championship could well have been avoided had their former powerbrokers recognised the profound impact that having a devastating forward of Lukaku’s ilk could have brought.
Considering the £22m-rated attacker’s fortunes with Everton in the mid-2010s, it’s fair to suggest that the Belgian would have ensured that Villa never dropped out of the Premier League had the Midlands club succeeded in getting him.