While Emi Buendia has been Aston Villa’s statement signing this summer, the capture of Josh Feeney may prove just as significant.
Signed for a ‘significant undisclosed free’ from League One side Fleetwood, Villa beat a number of suitors to the 16-year-old’s signature.
But why was the teenager wanted by Villa, Manchester United, Wolves, Leicester City, Leeds United and Celtic?
There have long been murmurs about Feeney, who has spent the past four years in the Cod Army’s academy.
His contract at Highbury ran out this summer, meaning there was a clamour to sign the England U16 captain.
If there was any doubt about his promise, he was included in Fleetwood’s first-team squad three times near the end of last season when he was still just 15.
Despite learning his trade at the tiny Lancashire club, Feeney showed his qualities when rubbing shoulders with youngsters from Premier League giants with England.
A ball-playing centre-back, he netted on his England debut in a 6-0 win over Northern Ireland.
Why did he choose Villa?
It has been reported that Villa and United were the clear frontrunners to capture Feeney.
While the Red Devils were closer to home and have a long and proud history of producing homegrown talent, the defender opted for Villa.
And that may be to do with the investment they have poured into their youth setup over the past three seasons.
A brand-new academy facility is at the heart of their owners’ desire to see more homegrown products in the first team.
Villa’s young stars were on full show in December 2020 when their entire first-team squad was unable to play a Carabao Cup game against Liverpool due to a Covid-19 outbreak.
On top of that, they recently won the FA Youth Cup — becoming just the second club outside of the ‘big six’ to lift the trophy since Feeney was born.
Dean Smith has also handed Jacob Ramsey, Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Carney Chukwuemeka chances in the first team since being appointed.
Clearly Feeney sees a pathway at Villa Park.
What have Villa said?
It is rare for a club to comment on the signing of such a young player.
But Villa are keen to champion the work they are doing and their academy head Mark Harrison was understandably thrilled to capture Feeney.
“We are delighted that Josh has joined us,” Harrison told the club website.
“He is a centre-back with an awful lot of potential who had attracted a lot of interest and has also captained England at U16 level.
“We would like to thank Fleetwood Town for their professional manner during the process of Josh joining.
“We look forward to seeing how Josh develops over the next few years.”
It is likely to be a number of years before we see Feeney feature in the Premier League.
While city rivals Birmingham proved age is no barrier when they handed Jude Bellingham his first-team debut at 16, Villa will be in no rush to do the same with Feeney.
He will continue to develop in Villa’s Under-18 and Under-23 teams — look out for a potential loan move once he has a couple more years’ development under his belt.