Aston Villa return to serious European action for the first time in more than a decade on Thursday but the club’s work behind the scenes should ensure these nights are regular events in the years ahead.
It is easy to look at Villa’s trajectory in the last 10 months and attribute it to one decision: the appointment of Unai Emery to replace Steven Gerrard last autumn.
When Emery arrived, Villa were worrying about relegation. Now after disposing of Hibernian in the qualifiers, they face Legia Warsaw here in the first group match of the Europa Conference League. The latest stage of Villa’s push for the summit.
Emery’s work has been outstanding yet without smart moves in the background, his job would be considerably more difficult.
Had Emery taken charge after Villa were promoted in 2019, for example, he would have found a giant club with few solid foundations.
Now they have broad-based, data-driven scouting system covering more than 40 leagues in detail, with algorithms tailored to flag targets early.
There is a thriving academy and a loan policy that helped them recoup £35million in player sales this summer. Plans are in place to increase the capacity of Villa Park to 50,000.
There are many examples of why Villa now work so well but three will suffice. First, the signing of Colombian forward Jhon Duran from US club Chicago Fire for a fee worth up to £17m in January 2023.
The 19-year-old’s spectacular volley in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace on September 16 was one of the goals of the season so far – and his third in just six appearances this term.
While Premier League followers knew little about Duran, he had been on Villa’s radar since he was with Colombian club Envigado, where he made his debut aged 15.
They first scouted himRead on m.allfootballapp.com