Football Features

Tom Heaton to Aston Villa? It could be Dean Smith’s most valuable summer signing yet

By CJ Smith

Published: 15:33, 31 July 2019 | Updated: 8:42, 19 December 2022

Aston Villa have embarked upon a remarkable summer of spending which has blasted through the £100m mark.

As shown by Fulham last season, this level of investment carries a huge element of risk but the likes of Douglas Luiz, Trezeguet and Wesley Moraes feel like more astute signings that could make Villa’s top-flight return genuinely comfortable.

But for all the astonishing attackers, majestic midfielders and dogged defenders coming into Dean Smith’s side, Villa’s most vital, sensible signing may still be to come… very soon.

Recent reports suggest the Midlands club are on the verge of securing an £8m deal for Burnley and England international goalkeeper, Tom Heaton, who has also been on Liverpool’s radar in the past 12 months.

Consistency between the sticks is something which has plagued Villa for some time now, arguably since the departure of Brad Friedel in 2011.

Shay Given’s experience filled the gap for one year, Brad Guzan proved effective if not a little erratic for four seasons after that, before leaving for Atlanta United, while, since then, not a single ‘keeper has ever been able to lay a serious claim to the gloves.

Sam Johnstone had a positive loan spell, Orjan Nyland played his part last year, Mark Bunn deputised for the aforementioned Norwegian and Lovre Kalinic, the Croatia international, has not turned out to be the solution most thought he would be when arriving last season, leaking 12 goals in just seven games.

Jed Steer meanwhile played a prominent role last term, with his Championship play-off semi-final heroics firing Villa to Wembley. He saved two penalties in the second leg shoutout against West Brom and made a number of fine saves against Derby County in the final, but for Smith, the prospect of bringing in a player who currently has the third-highest save percentage of any goalkeeper to make at least 40 starts in the last three Premier League seasons (72.5%), appears to be too good to turn down.

In fact, only David De Gea (73.5%) and Hugo Lloris (73.9%) have better records than Heaton in that particular statistic.

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Heaton has had his share of injury troubles over the past two seasons but in 2016/17, he made more saves (141) than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League and has been well worth his three caps for England.

And last season, after Burnley had leaked five goals against Everton, three against Arsenal and a whole bucket load more against the rest of the Premier League with Joe Hart between the sticks, Heaton came into the starting XI, helped the Clarets go eight without defeat and conceded just seven goals during that time.

The 33-year-old finished up with 19 Premier League appearances and played a huge role in helping Burnley drag themselves out of the relegation places to finish in a comfortable 15th, all while having to fight off competition from two fellow England internationals in Hart and Nick Pope.

But Heaton has been pragmatic about his future at Turf Moor over the past year, knowing only too well that the level of competition between the sticks at the Lancashire club may force him to look elsewhere for guaranteed game time.

“It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to see that it’s going to be difficult to fit us all in,” he said last October.

“Come the January transfer window, I’ve got to keep my ­options open. The one thing I’ve been consistent about in my career is moving clubs in order to play games.”

Stoke City’s Jack Butland and Cardiff City’s Neil Etheridge had both been seen as goalkeeping targets for Smith this summer but given the sheer level of spending going on at Villa Park, a cut-price deal for Heaton, who has just entered the final year of his Burnley contract, made more sense.

The ex-Man Utd stopper offers 96 games of Premier League experience to a side largely void of any, has proven an able deputy at international level and has been the last line of defence in a Sean Dyche side built upon defensive solidarity and, often, backs-to-the-wall determination.

There already have been and will be more glamorous signings made at Villa Park and throughout the rest of the Premier League during the remainder of this window and across January but with Heaton, Smith is able to solve one his problem positions with an experienced, reliable international for just £8m.

That simply must go down as one of the most sensible, astute signings in the Premier League this summer.