Aston Villa were busy in the summer transfer window, bolstering their defence with Axel Tuanzebe (loan) and Ashley Young while strengthening the attack with Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings, but one area they missed was in the engine room.
Dean Smith wanted a ball-playing midfielder to provide some composure and creativity in a central role and was linked with Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Winks, Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse among others.
Villa’s had a £25m bid for Ward-Prowse rejected and the deal ended up falling through as the Saints requested £50m, but Kevin Phillips believes the move fell apart because Jack Grealish left to join Manchester City.
He told Football Insider: “We aren’t privy to what goes on in the background in terms of agents and whatever but there will have been conversations. Turning down Villa is a big call. With the signings villa have made, he might have thought he could go and replace Grealish.
“Or maybe he saw Grealish go and thought Villa were worse off so he decided to stay. That pushed him to sign a new deal with the club and snub Villa, which makes the sale look like a mistake. Swapping Grealish for Ward-Prowse would have been a brilliant move (by Villa).”
Ward-Prowse has made 327 appearances in all competitions for the Saints since rising through the youth ranks to the first-team, scoring 34 goals with 42 assists. The 26-year-old has represented England off the back of his form at St Marys and is now club captain, so he would have left the club with a heavy heart.
Villa never lodged an acceptable bid for Ward-Prowse and the player didn’t need a lot of convincing to stay, so the Midlands outfit had to make do with their existing midfield.