By Robson Sharuko
Aston Villa’s US$100 million makeover, with an African touch, now has its footprints in all the four parts of the continent.
This follows the club’s completion of the US$24.1 million acquisition of Burkinabe international forward, Betrand Traore.
The English Premiership side have been investing in players from the continent, creating what some are describing as football’s version of the African Union, since Egyptian billionaire, Naseef Sawiris, completed his takeover of the club.
With a net income of about US$9 billion, Sawiris is in partnership in the ownership of Villa with billionaire American businessman, Wes Edens.
The duo secured a controlling stake in the club from Chinese businessman, Tony Xia, in July 2018.
Their investment saved the club from going into administration and, while there hasn’t been any purchase of players from the United States, there has been a huge investment in those from Africa.
And, the acquisition of the 25-year-old winger from Burkina Faso, has brought that investment, in African players, closer to the US$100 million mark.
It also means Villa now have representation, in terms of players, in North, East, West and Southern Africa.
Traore switched from French side, Olympique Lyon, to Villa, in a deal worth US$21,6 million while the Birmingham side will also pay a further US$2,54 million in add-ons.
Lyon, the French club where Zimbabwe international forward, Tino Kadewere plies his trade, retain a 15 percent sell-on clause on the Burkinabe winger.
Traore once had a spell at Chelsea, who loaned him to Dutch club Vitesse, where he played alongside Villa’s Zimbabwean midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba.
“I played with JT at Chelsea, I spoke to him,’’ Traore said after his transfer was confirmed. “I knew John as a Chelsea legend when I was a kid from the academy.
“It’s always something special when he gives you advice.
“I spoke to the manager (Dean Smith), spoke with the Sporting Director, as well, and some players I used to play with — Nakamba and (Anwar) El Ghazi.
“I spoke to Nakamba, I talked to him a little bit about the club. Many things made me take the decision to come here. I’m happy, I’m a striker, an attacking player, I like to take risks, create and I’m coming here to help the team score some goals.’’
Traore was left out of the squad for Villa’s opening match, a 1-0 win over Sheffield United, on Monday night.
Smith said he couldn’t field his new acquisition because the process to sign him, given they also needed to secure a work permit, meant there wasn’t enough time to get him ready for the Monday Night game.
But, Tanzanian international forward, Mbwana Samatta, and his French counterpart, Frederic Guilbert, were left out of the 18-man squad in a reminder of the tough battle for places at the team this season.
“That was just selection. Players who I believe have done well (in training) get in the team,” Smith said.
Villa’s hero on Monday night was centre-back, Ezri Konsa, whose second-half header settled a right match against a gritty 10-man Sheffield United, who missed a penalty.
Konsa arrived at Villa Park from Brentford, in July last year, in a US$15,23 million deal.
His recruitment meant he reunited with manager Smith, who had signed him for English Championship side Brentford, just a year earlier.
Although Konsa was a member of the triumphant English squad, which won the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, his father is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
His mother is from Angola.
Warriors’ midfielder, Nakamba, was an unused substitute on Monday night.
He represents the Southern African interest in this Villa side and arrived at the Birmingham club last year in a US$15,26 million deal.
Some reports have suggested Nakamba could be traded, before the October 5 transfer deadline, for Villa to try and balance their books.
However, by getting a place in the squad for the match on Monday, after his impressive showing in the EFL Cup last week, the good money appears to be on the Zimbabwean spending, at least, another season at Villa.
But, the same guarantees cannot be made for Tanzanian international forward, Samatta, who arrived at Villa in January from Belgian side Genk.
He made history, as the first player from his country, to play in the English Premiership but the adventure, so far, hasn’t gone according to expectations.
“It’s a huge step for me in my career,” Samatta told Villa’s official website after completing his US$10,18 million move.
“For all the people in Tanzania, this is a very big step for the country as well.
“Everybody there, they were looking for it to see when someone from Tanzania could play in the Premier League, and here I am today.”
However, eight months later, the club record investment in forward, Ollie Watkins, appears to send the signal Smith has lost trust in the men he asked to lead the line, towards the end of last season, when Brazilian striker, Wesley, was injured.
After scoring 76 goals, in 191 matches for Genk in four years, Samatta has found the going tough, so far.
His deal to Villa also ensured that his former Tanzanian side, Simba SC, received a share of the transfer after a clause they inserted in a deal which took him to Congolese giants, TP Mazembe.
Villa also agreed a deal, which would rise to US$19,09 million, to bring in Egyptian international winger, Trezeguet whose countryman, Ahmed Elmohamady, had arrived at the same club, from Hull City, in July 2017.
Dutch winger, Anwar El Ghazi, moved to Villa from French side Lille for US$10,17 million and, given he holds dual citizenship, he would have been eligible to play for Morocco, the country his parents left to settle in the Netherlands.
“It was a difficult choice, Moroccans say “your parents are from Morocco and you have Moroccan blood, you have to choose Morocco” and Dutch people say “you were born here and grew up and have to choose Oranje,” El Ghazi said.
“I saw more future for me (with Netherlands).
“In the family, the reactions were divided, my father would have preferred to see it differently, but that is behind me, I hope to come back to the Netherlands (squad) in the future.” The Herald