Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
MARVELOUS NAKAMBA didn’t set the English Premiership alight, but he was Aston Villa’s best player before the Covid-19 lockdown.
That’s the view of one of the most authoritative media voices when it comes to issues related to the Birmingham club.
The 26-year-old Zimbabwean international midfielder was one of many footballers brought in by former Villa transfer chief, Jesus “Suso’’ Pitarch, in a £140 million investment, in the last English summer.
However, Suso was dismissed by the club this week, amid questions about the quality of some of the recruits.
Inevitably, focus has turned on the players who were brought into the club, including Nakamba, in deals orchestrated, and endorsed, by the Spaniard.
Three of those recruits where African players — Nakamba, Tanzanian forward Mbwana Samatta and Egyptian winger, Trezeguet — who cost a combined £28.5 million.
Trezeguet scored six league goals, including three in the last four matches, Samatta scored only one league goal.
The Birmingham Mail, through their specialist Villa Club Writer, Ashley Preece, have been running the rule on the players recruited by the departing Suso.
“From the back of the Holte End to delving into the heart of Aston Villa, our dedicated Villa writer is always on the pulse of all things claret and blue,’’ the newspaper says.
“From major talking points to transfer news to match action and fan reaction, Ashley Preece will bring you the very latest from Bodymoor Heath and Villa Park.’’
Those who did well were considered “a hit’’ while those who flopped were considered “a miss’’.
Although Nakamba lost his place, in the first XI towards the end of the season, where he was limited to appearances from the bench, the Zimbabwean was not considered a flop, in a brutal post-mortem, focused on the players recruited by Suso.
Infact, the newspaper even believe Nakamba was Villa’s best player before the lockdown.
“Marvelous Nakamba, £11 million from Club Brugge, the Zimbabwean was Suso’s cheaper alternative to the man Smith wanted, Kalvin Phillips from Leeds,’’ Preece said in his analysis.
“Nakamba endured an up-and-down first year at Villa Park. He looked good from the outset with form dipping thereafter. He was Villa’s best player prior to the pandemic break.
“But, again, that wasn’t saying much given they were spiralling towards relegation. Lost his place and didn’t feature much at all during the restart.
“Currently a back-up player chucked on at the end to help see a game out. Hit or miss — reserving judgment.’’
What this means is that, according to the newspaper, the jury is still out on Nakamba.
The newspaper also reserved judgment on Samatta despite the Tanzanian scoring only one league goal since his arrival in January.
“Mbwana Samatta, £8.5 million from Racing Club Genk, the Tanzanian arrived with all the hype of a Champions League striker who had not long headed in away at Liverpool,’’ Preece said.
“The forward flew into Bodymoor Heath amidst a striker crisis, following Wesley’s season-ending injury, and the initial signs were good.
“Samatta scored on his Premier League debut away at Bournemouth and followed it up with a bullet header at Wembley (in the League Cup) just three games later.
“The 27-year-old wasn’t match-fit prior to lockdown and, since then, has struggled for form as he finished this season with two strikes from 16 appearances.
“Hit or miss — reserving judgment.’’
The newspaper said Trezeguet was a mixture of both — a hit and a miss.
“Trezeguet, £9 million from Kasimpasa, a funny old signing pushed through by Suso, who scouted the Egyptian at the African Cup of Nations alongside Smith (Villa manager, Dean).
“The boss was keen on Said Benrahma at his former club, but Trezeguet was the man they went with, a winger with a desirable work rate.
“He finished with six Premier League goals from 20 starts, while registering just one assist. He finished with better stats than Anwar El Ghazi, with his three goals during restart helping Villa to catapult above the relegation line.
“Hit or miss — a bit of both.’’
Goalkeeper Tom Heaton, signed for £8 million from Burnley, was considered a hit who “played like a man possessed up until his cruel, season-ending injury up at Turf Moor.’’
Belgian defender, Bjorn Engles, recruited for £7.2 million from French side Stade, was also considered a hit who “performed astutely up until he picked up an injury on the eve of the Wolves fixture on Remembrance Sunday.’’
Reims are also the club who provide a home to Zimbabwe international midfielder Marshall Munetsi.
Brazilian midfielder, Douglas Luiz, who battled with Nakamba for a place in the starting XI before transforming himself into one of the club’s best players, after the restart, was considered a hit.
He arrived at Villa from Manchester City in a £15 million deal.
“Arrived just two days before Villa went to Spurs on the opening day of last season and, fast-forward 11 months, has looked more like a £50 million player rather than the £15 million Villa paid City,’’ the newspaper said.
“City, of course, have a buy-back option on the Brazilian which expires next summer.
“The midfielder was influential throughout restart and was, by far, Villa’s most-consistent performer. He’s key to next year, that’s for sure.’’
Giant defender, Tyrone Mings, a £21 million signing from Bournemouth, was also considered a hit.
“Signed a four-year contract off the back of a brilliant loan spell from January to May last year,’’ the newspaper said. “A key catalyst for promotion while, this year, has broken into the England team and has helped Villa to Premier League safety.
“A massively influential figure in Smith’s dressing room who’s continually rallied his teammates to the very end. An excellent signing despite some shaky moments of late.’’
There were flops, of course, and these include Spanish midfielder Jota, his countryman, Borja Baston, Danny Drinkwater, secured on loan from Chelsea and Croatian ‘keeper, Lovre Kalinic.