Aston Villa‘s transfer business is currently in full swing, although there is still perhaps a nagging feeling that they are missing something, with the void vacated by former skipper Jack Grealish last summer having yet to be adequately filled.
The boyhood Villa man had proved instrumental in dragging the former European champions out of the second tier in 2019, before again stealing the limelight to help maintain their Premier League status the following season, netting a vital, final-day strike to ensure the club’s safety.
Another decisive season followed in the 2020/21 campaign as he bagged 16 goal contributions under then-boss Dean Smith, despite a lengthy absence that essentially put paid to any hopes of European qualification for the Midlands outfit.
Having held firm for so long, unwilling to part ways with their prized asset, a British record, £100m offer from Manchester City ultimately proved too good to ignore, with the Englishman becoming just another special talent in a squad full to the brim with quality.
Perhaps he misses his talismanic role at Villa Park, having somewhat blended into the background at the Etihad, although the 26-year-old’s decision has already resulted in silverware, as Pep Guardiola’s claimed a fourth league title in five seasons with a dramatic last day triumph against, ironically, Villa.
Jubilant scenes ensued for City – and in particular, Grealish – while Steven Gerrard’s side were left reflecting on a campaign that had ended with a whimper, the club languishing in 14th place despite spending over £100m throughout the campaign.
In the absence of their former leading man, there is no question that the club have faltered, with even the statement loan signing of Philippe Coutinho in January – a move which has since become permanent – failing to inspire too great a response, despite an early flurry of goals from the Brazilian upon his arrival.
Gerrard’s men, it would seem, are simply in need of a figurehead – a man to produce something from nothing when they need it most. Step forward, Gareth Bale.
That is the view of pundit Tony Cascarino, who suggested that the Villans may be a suitable destination for the Welshman, as reported by Birmingham Live, with the one-time Southampton man having only just confirmed his expected departure from Real Madrid after almost a decade in the Spanish capital.
It has proved a largely toxic last few years or so for the 102-cap international with Los Blancos, with the winger proving a “controversial” figure in Madrid, in the words of one journalist, for his desire to put his country over his club, a fact only heightened with that infamous ‘Wales.Golf.Madrid’ banner.
Despite that bitter and long overdue ending, the former Tottenham man has provided a good return on the La Liga side’s initial £85.3m investment, scoring 106 goals and providing 67 assists in 258 games across all competitions, winning three league titles and a staggering five Champions Leagues in that time.
The last of those European triumphs came last weekend as Carlo Ancelotti’s side ran out 1-0 winners over Liverpool in Paris, although Bale was, as expected, simply a bystander to proceedings, having largely been overlooked for selection in the most recent campaign.
That lack of game time may be a concern to Gerrard and co, although as he proved on international duty back in March, the £528k-per-week gem still has the ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck even when not fully fit, netting twice in a vital 2-1 win over Austria in Cardiff – the winger an undoubted “legend” for his country, according to manager Robert Page.
Any doubters should also look to his form during the 2020/21 season following his return to Spurs, when he scored a remarkable 16 goals in just 20 games for the club in all competitions, 11 of those strikes coming in the league.
He may well not be what he was, although at just 32 he is still young enough to make an impact for any side, with Villa in need of someone with such game-winning nous and vast experience at the highest level, while he provides the added bonus of being available on a free.
The hole left by Grealish remains, NSWE should turn to Bale to fill it.