When Dean Smith walked through the doors of Villa Park in October 2018 not many will have seen a promotion winning season on the cards.
The Villans came into the campaign with fresh backing from new owners but there was still a considerable job for Smith and his players to do once he took over.
Steve Bruce had left the club after a troublesome period which never really saw them get their season going.
Indeed it took a while for the current boss to work his magic too, but once he did, it was done to devastating effect.
Aston Villa became a force to be reckoned with again, playing an impressive brand of football that at one point saw them go ten games without dropping a single point.
Their consistency was remarkable as they timed their run to near perfection.
Sitting 13th in March with one of the worst defensive records in the league, the thought of going up wouldn’t have been on the minds of many.
And clearly, it can’t have been a focus during the winter.
In a pre-match press conference ahead of a clash with Ipswich in January, Smith laid out his policy for transfer windows to come by declaring, as quoted by Birmingham Live:
“The future of the football club has to be getting players in who have potential. We want to raise the market value also. We want players who can develop and get better.”
Ahead of what could possibly have been a third season in the Championship, this policy will have proved fruitful. The way Smith was able to develop even the most enigmatic of Villa players in the back half of the season was outstanding.
However, as they gear up for a return to the Premier League, does this policy need to change? Arguably so.
After releasing eight players, it’s evident Villa mean business, especially given the age of some of those who departed.
That was a clear statement of what Smith spoke about in January. Yet, it’s crucial he adapts to a new league by changing his policy.
The Premier League has a funny habit of sucking you up and spitting you back out. Just ask Fulham. It’s important they don’t stray into territories of spending over £100m on players, but they do need to add experience to their squad.
In re-signing Gary Cahill, a player who has been the subject of reported interest, it’s a recognition of the need to change this policy.
The former Chelsea man is precisely the type of experienced campaigner they need to sign and can provide a welcome boost in their quest to improve their backline.
They are three prime examples of a change in direction from Smith and the club’s hierarchy. If they can balance those types of signings with footballers who have scope to improve in the future, they’ll strike gold with their transfer business.
Going for younger players isn’t necessarily a bad thing but adaptability is crucial at this stage. Developing players in the Championship was shrewd but when it comes to the harsh realities of the Premier League, they may not have the time.
With this in mind, Smith needs to break his January promise or else they could be staring at an instant return to the second tier.
A £170m windfall from winning the play-offs is sure to help with proceedings but spending it all in one go would be foolish.
Moving for Cahill is a good start and lays down their marker for the summer ahead. However, there needs to be greater urgency in bringing in proven talent, rather than those who may come good in a couple of years.
If they don’t get things right then they’ll find it a struggle to compete.
For many sides relegation is just a ticking time bomb away from reality. Simply relying on players with potential would be too big a risk.