New boys get Villa buzzing

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Getty ImagesThe arrivals of Danish international Jores Okore, left, and former FC Groningen man Leandro Bacuna, right, have created early summer excitement at Villa Park.

Not one, but two signings confirmed in a day, announced within an hour or so of each other. Little beats the buzz which comes when a new face wears those famous claret and blue colours for the very first time; to see both Jores Okore and Leandro Bacuna posing in Villa's 2013-14 home shirt solicited a common reaction: When can the season start?

- Bacuna makes Villa move
- Villa complete Okore signing

Not soon enough, for Villa. It has been an enormously satisfying week. New contracts accepted by two of the club's most promising young players, Andreas Weimann and Nathan Baker, confirmation of the signings of Okore and Bacuna, joining Aleksandar Tonev in the 'player in' box, the release of next season's home and away kits, and the promise of a fourth new recruit in the not-too-distant future. Danish striker Nicklas Helenius is expected to finalise his move in the next week.

Okore and Bacuna are the latest examples of Villa's strictly defined transfer policy. Neither are household names, but that is what makes them so exciting. Villa have been lacking this type of insightful scouting for years. It is why Paul Lambert was hired by the club last summer; to scour Europe for players just beginning to demonstrate their talent, players hungry for their first big break and motivated enough to make the most of it. Players who would be genuinely honoured to play for Aston Villa. Lambert has embraced the strategy, and wasted no time at all since the end of the season in taking on the next phase of rebuilding his squad.

Signing Okore is actually something of a coup for Villa. It's not exaggerating to say that the 20-year-old is considered one of Europe's best young defenders, a standout talent during FC Nordsjaelland's Danish Superliga title success in 2011-12, and subsequent Champions League campaign last season. Pitched against Chelsea in the group stages of the competition, Okore caught the eye sufficiently for the Blues to submit a bid, only for the Ivory Coast-born defender (he moved to Denmark aged three years old) to decline on the grounds that he didn't want to stall his career by sitting on the bench. That's one mature 20-year-old.

Everton came sniffing with a late bid earlier this week but the deal with Villa was well advanced, to the point of being completed, and to hear Okore discuss his move in front of the media was a joy. Continually referring to the club's performances last season as 'we', Okore said: 'this is the right club for me, I feel it straight away.' Take note, every single future Villa signing -- this is the way to win the fans over, immediately. His enthusiasm was obvious, and contagious.

Okore could be already Villa's most important signing of the summer. The team's defensive deficiencies were clear last season, and the main glaring weakness at the back was a lack of pace. Neither Baker, Ron Vlaar or Ciaran Clark are particularly quick. Okore has plenty of pace. He's also powerful, imposing, and very composed on the ball. Already with seven full caps for Denmark to his name, had Villa waited to monitor his progress for another 12 months, they may well have got nowhere near him.

If Okore -- linked for several days -- wasn't a total surprise, Bacuna came completely out of the blue. The first many knew of Villa's interest -- yours truly included -- was when the club announced the signing. Discussions with Groningen were swift, decisive, and uncomplicated. The Dutchman is a versatile footballer but his primary position is in central midfield. In fact, there's a thread of opinion from some who follow Groningen and have watched Bacuna over the past few seasons that he's suffered a little from his versatility. His strengths may fill a couple of gaps in Villa's midfield: high energy, box-to-box running, a powerful shot. No one really did that for the club last season. Bacuna could be an underrated addition.

Villa's flurry of transfer activity could hardly be described as a spending spree, however. Okore cost around £4m, Bacuna £1.5m, Tonez £2.5m. Relatively modest investments for players just in their 20s. And room in the squad has been created by Lambert's pruning of personnel -- the departures of senior pros Richard Dunne, Jean Makoun, Eric Lichaj and Andy Marshall freed up not only shirts but breathing space in the wage bill. Others will follow shortly, and with Darren Bent's eventual sale likely to bring in at least £6m, as well as the possibility of nominal fees for Stephen Ireland and Shay Given, and perhaps the departure of one or two more (Barry Bannan and Brett Holman may be sweating on their futures following the arrivals of Bacuna and Tonev), Villa's net spend may be negligible.

Smart business, and shrewd scouting. It's been a while since Villa fans have enjoyed the month of June quite so much.

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