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Lambert gamble on youth pays off

Sunday, 23 December 2012 - 10:44am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
There is a revolution, a bold gamble, going on at Aston Villa where the owner, Randy Lerner, has finally hired a manager who has bought into his vision of how to sustain the club.

There is a revolution, a bold gamble, going on at Aston Villa where the owner, Randy Lerner, has finally hired a manager who has bought into his vision of how to sustain the club.

Paul Lambert has, in six months, reduced the average age of the Villa team from 28 years and four months to 23 years and four months - the mean of the line-up that faced Liverpool last weekend.

It has been portrayed as a cost-cutting exercise and although Lerner is desperate to stem the losses - there was a eye-watering 54 million pounds deficit from the last financial year - there is also a clear strategy. And it does involve investment. It has gone relatively unremarked that Villa spent 21.7 million pounds- the fifth highest in the Premier League in the summer - acquiring nine players in that shift of strategy.

The spending means that only three clubs have spent more than them in the six years of Lerner's ownership. Following on from his sound work at Norwich City, Lambert was willing to trawl the lower leagues and acquire hungry young talent - such as Matt Lowton (Sheffield United) and Ashley Westwood (Crewe Alexandra) - and also promote from within by giving opportunities to the academy graduates.

Lambert's argument is that these players are hungry for success, willing to learn and to adapt. If they have the talent and the temperament then he will coach the rest. It also means that older players, such as Darren Bent, the highest-profile casualty, would be supplanted by players who fitted into the team's style of play: namely 7 million pounds signing Christian Benteke, 22, who has been a revelation since his arrival.

Younger players also mean lower wages - a happy result for Lerner who despite his investment has yearned for a manager who would buy in to his desire for a self-sustaining model of a club.

Today (Sunday) Villa travel to Chelsea and with such a young team there may be an inevitable dip after the heights of their 3-1 win at Anfield last week. Captain that day, and for Villa's past three matches, was Ciaran Clark, just 23, who formed a three-man defence with Chris Herd, also 23, and 21-year-old Nathan Baker. All are academy graduates, as were three others in that team. "Everyone knows there is hope here," Clark said. "The younger teams and players can see a lot of young players coming through and they must see that they can do the same."

 


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