Aston Villa Opinion: Why Aston Villa must avoid over-paying for Jack Stephens
The move, if it materializes, would be Villa’s second raid on the Saints this summer following the capture of left-back Matt Targett just a couple of days ago. However, the Premier League newcomers are yet to firm up their interest in the former England U21 international.
Villa have already made a strong statement of intent in the summer transfer window following their promotion to the Premier League, with the Lions completing deals for as many as five new players until now.
Birmingham City playmaker Jota, Wolves and Lille loanees Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi, who played a key role in last season’s promotion-winning campaign, as well as Matt Targett and club-record signing Wesley Moraes, are all set to be a part of the club’s plans for the upcoming campaign in the top-flight.
However, as it seems, Smith is open to welcoming a few more fresh faces, with Jack Stephens being the latest addition to his shortlist.
Stephens wasn’t a regular starter for Southampton in the Premier League last season but the 25-year-old still managed to register 24 league appearances for the Saints.
The Torpoint-born centre-back didn’t fare exceptionally well, to be honest, but he didn’t do his reputation any harm with some average displays at the back.
However, it remains to be seen what plan Ralph Hasenhuttl has in mind for him next season, with the Austrian currently looking set for a major squad overhaul this summer.
A youth product of Plymouth Argyle, Stephens made his move to Southampton way back in 2011 and made his first-team debut in a 2-1 FA Cup victory over Coventry City in 2012.
However, he found himself on the periphery of the first-team more often than not and struggled to nail down a regular starting role, subsequently spending time on loan at Swindon Town in League One and Middlesbrough in the Championship.
Things, however, took a positive turn for Stephens and the defender enjoyed considerable first-team involvement in the Premier League in the 2016-17 season following the end of his loan stint at Coventry City in the 2015-16 campaign.
The 25-year-old hasn’t looked back ever since his successful breakthrough season and has gone on to establish himself as a useful defender in the top-flight over the past few seasons.
A part of the England youth side that won the 2016 Toulon Tournament, Stephens has made a total of 80 appearances for the Saints in all competitions till date.
Held in high regard at the youth academies of Plymouth and Southampton in his younger days, Stephens hasn’t really gone on to fulfil his potential but he still has a lot of time on his side to hit greater heights in the Premier League.
To put things into perspective, Aston Villa have already completed deals for Kortney Hause and Matt Targett. That said, one cannot help but feel that the Lions need to add at least another quality centre-back to their ranks before the next season gets underway.
The departure of loanees Axel Tuanzebe and Tyrone Mings to Man United and Bournemouth respectively has left Dean Smith short of cover at the heart of the defence. While both of them could be back at Villa Park next term, it is quite understandable that the manager is looking at other alternatives.
Stephens’ exploits at St.Mary’s haven’t really made eyeballs turn but he has evolved into a decent top-flight defender over the past couple of campaigns and it won’t be a bad idea for Villa to get him on board.
However, it is still unclear what kind of fee Villa would need to pay in order to tempt Southampton into selling the 25-year-old this summer, given that he still has three years left on his current contract. Also, the Saints might be reluctant to part company with him, particularly after letting Matt Targett depart.
A versatile player capable of playing at centre-back, right-back and also in a holding midfield role in front of the backline, Stephens is quite fast and agile for a player of his stature, although his key attributes are his physicality and aerial ability.
The 25-year-old has occasionally proven himself to be susceptible while dealing with the transitions in play but he could add much-needed depth to Villa’s defensive ranks, nevertheless.
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To sum it up, Aston Villa signing Jack Stephens ultimately depends on the Saints’ valuation of the player. However, they should prioritise signing either Mings or Tuanzebe permanently.