Some went as far as to suggest Fulham could finish in the top half of their first season back in the Premier League.
While such predictions seem foolish now, given where the Cottagers ended up last season, their summer business was so bullish it was almost irresistible to hint at their seemingly inevitable glory.
This time last year, the Cottagers were making waves. Over £100m was spent, with Jean Michael Seri, Andre Anguissa, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Alfie Mawson, Joe Bryan, Fabri and Maxime Le Marchand all pitching up at Craven Cottage. And yet, it still wasn’t enough to prevent Fulham from suffering immediate relegation back to the Championship.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) July 8, 2019
This summer, there is another promoted team spending big. Just like Fulham 12 months before them, Aston Villa have splurged around £100m on transfers bringing in Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett, Wesley, Ezri Konsa, Trezeguet, Anwar El Ghazi, Bjorn Engels, Jota and Kourtney Hause. So, are Villa making the same mistakes Fulham did?
It wasn’t the standard of Fulham’s signings that consigned them to relegation. It was the plan, or the lack thereof, that underpinned those signings that proved to be their downfall.
Inflated by the cash that comes with promotion to the most lucrative league on the planet, the Cottagers simply went after every available player they could.
There was no strategy behind their summer business.
Seri, Anguissa and Mawson were impressive captures, but Slavisa Jokanovic had no method in mind to harness them on the pitch. Fulham’s story is the archetypal tale of gross wastage in the Premier League age. They spent £100 million not because they needed to or knew how to do it, but because they could do it.
Aston Villa, however, at least have some semblance of a plan. Of the 10 signings they have made this summer, five have previously played under manager Dean Smith, with another one a long term target of the long term Brentford boss.
Mings, their second most expensive addition at £20 million, spent the second half of last season on loan at Villa Park. They already know what he will bring.
While some managers hope new signings will bring a new style of play to their respective club, Smith will demand that his new additions adapt to the ideology he has already imposed at Aston Villa.
Fulham’s new signings arrived at a club without such a clearly defined identity. That was the root of the problems they faced over the 2018/19 season.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) July 24, 2019
Of course, all signings come attached with a certain degree of risk. That is impossible to eliminate entirely. Villa, though, appear to have spent £100 million this summer along the lines of what they have already built.
These new players should, in theory, add momentum to what carried them back to the top flight in the first place.
They might not be done either. “There’s still more business to be done,” Smith admitted in a recent interview. “There’s been reports out there that we’re signing everyone and anyone. Which isn’t the case. A lot of the players we’ve been linked with, we’ve not even spoken about them. That’s the nature of the beast.”
With Smith’s comments in mind, it’s possible that Villa could still spoil their summer.
They could still make signings for the sake of spending money.
The closer Aston Villa get to transfer deadline day the more tempting they might find it to get one more big name and at that moment, they could stray away from their strategy. Fulham fell into this trap. So far Villa have avoided the mistakes the Cottagers made, but it wouldn’t take much for their paths to converge.