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Timing of Jesus Garcia Pitarch’s Aston Villa exit is awkward

By Matt Maher | Aston Villa | Published:

Though Jesus Garcia Pitarch’s exit from Villa was not hugely surprising, the timing is awkward.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith with CEO Christian Purslow (left) and former sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch (right)

The Spaniard’s position appeared vulnerable from the moment it emerged the club would be conducting a review of their recruitment and scouting strategy at the end of the season.

Yet his departure, on the opening day of the transfer window, means Villa enter a vitally important period missing a key cog in the machine. Sourcing his replacement is a matter of urgency.

For now, the bulk of the extra workload will be taken on by chief executive Christian Purslow, a man unafraid of a hands-on approach and not exactly inexperienced when it comes to negotiating transfers.

Last summer, Purslow is thought to have played a particularly important role in getting deals for Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings over the line. The pair were among the few success stories of Villa’s much-publicised £131m spend during that window, albeit before Heaton suffered a season-ending injury on New Year’s Day.

January signing Danny Drinkwater, another deal in which Purslow was heavily involved, fared less well.

Pitarch has taken most of the criticism for Villa’s perceived lack of success in the market during the last two windows, yet in many respects that is unfair and his exit (whether he was sacked or went of his own accord depends on who you speak to) was prompted more by the deterioration of his relationship with Purslow than anything else.

His brief was far from easy and the club’s strategy of targeting young players who would increase in value was mutually agreed with Purslow and head coach Dean Smith.

An important part of Villa’s approach was to keep the wage bill low. Most of the players signed were placed on salaries of between £30,000-40,000-a-week – some way below the Premier League average. With that in mind, they were always going to recruit heavily from the foreign market.

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Still, having agreed to the brief, Pitarch had to deliver and there were simply too many misses and not enough hits in the players he was chiefly responsible for recruiting. Marvelous Nakamba, Frederic Guilbert, Matt Targett and £21m record buy Wesley all struggled for consistency. When the latter suffered a season-ending injury, Pitarch was given a £10m budget to source a replacement and delivered Mbwana Samatta for £8.5m. The Tanzania international scored just one goal in 14 Premier League appearances.

Even one of the eventual success stories, £15m midfielder Douglas Luiz, was underwhelming before the season was halted by the pandemic.

The counter argument is that Villa’s main aim this season was survival and no matter how small the margin, they managed it. Smith, pointing to the scale of last summer’s overhaul, described it as a “major achievement.” Pitarch, by definition, surely deserves his share of the credit for that? It will certainly be interesting to see whether any of his other signings now show improvement in the same manner of Luiz next season.

Having hardly made any public comment since joining the club in October 2018, the manner with which Villa rebuked their sporting director back in March for comments in the Spanish press, where he suggested the season should be cancelled, hinted at the breakdown in his relationship with Purslow.

Pitarch was Villa’s third sporting director and like predecessors Hendrik Almstadt and Steve Round his tenure lasted less than two years. Through three different owners the club have persisted with the continental structure but they are yet to find the process or personnel to effectively make it work.

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher

Chief sports writer for the Express & Star.

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