Villa sporting chief pays price for £140m spree despite great escape
Pitarch axed but Smith will get funds to bolster his squad Hopes of keeping Grealish rise as United interest cools
Aston Villa have sacked sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch after securing Premier League survival only on the final day of the season.
Pitarch was axed yesterday as the club took action over the muchmaligned £140 million Villa spent on recruitment last summer, with the decision rubber-stamped by owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens.
Villa avoided the drop on Sunday and, as reported by The Daily Telegraph last month, are conducting a full review of their football operations, with the inquest led by chief executive Christian Purslow.
Pitarch has paid the price after a number of signings failed to pay off. It is understood the Spaniard was behind the recruitment of record £21 million signing Wesley, plus Trezeguet, Matt Targett, Mbwana Samatta and Marvelous Nakamba, who have all struggled to impress.
Villa will look to replace Pitarch, known as “Suso”, as a priority.
Dean Smith, the head coach, has been assured of funds for new signings over the summer and will target players in attacking areas, plus a central midfielder, a right-back and possibly another centre-back.
John McGinn, the Scotland international, is expecting major changes and has warned that Villa cannot risk another season struggling near the bottom.
“I think everyone is aware we need quality added. We obviously spent a lot of money last summer and we may need to go and do it again,” McGinn said.
“We can’t get complacent and think everything is all right now. It was a poor season overall, we know that, us as players, and I am sure everyone upstairs is fully aware of that.
“There will be changes, I am sure of that. There is no way we should be celebrating finishing 17th with the size and stature of this place and the money we have spent.”
Villa’s summer strategy appears likely to be defined by the future of captain Jack Grealish, who is on the radar of both Manchester clubs, although his hopes of a move to Old Trafford have been fading for some time. Manchester United have little appetite to pay anywhere near the £80 million asking fee and their priorities have changed, with Paul Pogba staying and the impact of Bruno Fernandes.
Grealish scored the goal at West Ham United on Sunday which ultimately secured Villa’s survival, and he admitted last week that he was uncertain where he would be playing next season.
McGinn said: “Our focus last season was getting the club promoted, our focus this year was keeping them in the league and we managed to do that. What happens now I’m not sure, but Jack is still contracted here.”
McGinn has confirmed he suffered a second stress fracture in March, after initially breaking his ankle in December. The 25-year-old admitted 2020 had been “horrible”, but believed Villa silenced their critics by staying up.
“With four games to go we were seven points behind and not one person outside the club really believed we could stay up,” he said. “In that sense the togetherness and character we showed to keep this club up is unbelievable.
“I’ve never known pressure like it before. There is a massive feeling of relief and elation.”
Smith has revealed he slept in his office at the training ground after a night of celebrations on Sunday. Villa’s players had returned to Bodymoor Heath after the West Ham game, and the party went on into the early hours.
“I’m not great because it was a heavy night, but I’m OK,” Smith told TalkSport yesterday morning. “I’m not sure what time it was. I slipped off before the lads could see me.
“I am immensely proud of the players and the staff because we had been written off. We walked off the pitch against Leicester [a 4-0 defeat in March] and everybody was saying we had been relegated.”
Party time: Manager Dean Smith embraces Jack Grealish during the celebrations