New Aston Villa officially starts now...
Paul Lambert’s players will find out exactly what is expected of them from here on in when they report back to Bodymoor Heath for pre-season training today.
And while the claret and blue squad members have been on the beach trying to forget all about last season, their new manager has been actively putting plans in place to banish any memories of a dreadful campaign.
During another busy week for Lambert, the 42-year-old Scot has made his first signing, added his trusted allies to his backroom staff and used his German connections to complete Villa’s pre-season programme of fixtures.
Karim El Ahmadi is the newest member of the dressing room and the first to come with the Lambert seal of approval. Brett Holman is another unfamiliar face who will report to the training ground today, with the Australian international midfielder signed by the previous regime on a Bosman free transfer.
Like Holman, El Ahmadi has been plying his trade in the Dutch Eredivisie. The Moroccan’s Feyenoord side were runners up in the Dutch top flight, ahead of Holman’s AZ Alkmaar who were fourth. Lambert expects, El Ahmadi, a 27-year-old defensive midfielder, who has joined for a fee in the region of £2.5million, to be a successful addition to the Villa squad.
“Karim will help the team, I have no doubt about that,” said Lambert. “He’s a really good footballer and he’s played well in a good team, a big team, and I’m looking forward to working with him.
“In fact, I’m really looking forward to getting things going when the lads will report back for pre-season.”
While Lambert is introducing himself to a squad he has largely inherited from predecessor Alex McLeish, the new manager will be encouraged by the presence of two of his closest confidants Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa.
Culverhouse and Karsa were Lambert’s assistant and head of football operations respectively at Norwich, having previously worked with him at Wycombe and Colchester.
He was always confident the pair would follow him to Villa, but it has been a case of playing a patient waiting game to free them from their responsibilities at Carrow Road.
Eventually, a compromise was reached with the Canaries who were unable to sustain a backroom team now including Chris Hughton’s own staff, recruited from Birmingham City.
Lambert, who has barely taken a day off since his appointment in early June, has also played a part in completing Villa’s schedule of friendly fixtures. Many of the games were arranged prior to his arrival, but an enforced change the week before the Premier League season kicks off has provided an ideal opportunity for Lambert to use his German contacts.
Lambert, who won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund and returned to the country to complete his coaching badges, has organised a match against Werder Bremen.
Villa will travel to face last season’s ninth-placed Bundesliga team at the Weserstadion on Saturday, August 11, with kick-off at 6pm local time. They were due to play a friendly at Molineux that day but Wolves asked to cancel because of their Capital One Cup tie against Aldershot in the newly named League Cup.
Villa are not due to play any home friendlies this season because Villa Park is hosting the Community Shield between Premier League champions Manchester City and FA Cup winners Chelsea on Sunday, August 12.
A busy pre-season programme kicks off with a trip to Burton on Saturday, July 14 (3pm), and also includes friendlies at Peterborough on Wednesday, August 1 (7.45pm), and Nottingham Forest on Saturday, August 4 (3pm).
Villa will play three games during their US tour later this month, taking on Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, July 18, Chicago Fire on Saturday, July 21, and Portland Timers on Tuesday, July 24, with each match starting at 7.30pm local time. It is on Saturday, August 18, of course, when the serious business starts with Villa’s Premier League curtain-raiser and Lambert’s first competitive match in charge against West Ham at Upton Park. Lambert will make sure his Villa players are ready.