The £15m bargain signing Aston Villa could land to light up Premier League next season

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Reports have linked Aston Villa with a summer transfer swoop for a midfielder with World Cup experience - but who’s also being booed at his current club.

Two years ago, Carlos Soler was playing for Spain in the World Cup not long after moving from boyhood club Valencia to Paris Saint-Germain. Now, he has his name booed when the teams are announced at the Parc des Princes. Unsurprisingly, his time in France seems to be coming to an end – and numerous reports suggest that Aston Villa could well be his next destination.

L'Equipe claimed yesterday that Villa were keen on the 27-year-old utility player, while Sport Witness came across reports from Spain that suggested Unai Emery had already quite literally been on the phone. But if he’s having his name jeered by his own fans, what kind of difference could he really be expected to make at Villa Park?

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The story of Soler’s stint at PSG isn’t an especially happy one. He was signed for €18m (£15.4m) in 2022 after scoring 11 La Liga goals for Valencia in back-to-back seasons, but struggled to nail down a starting spot at his new side. In Spain, he was used as a dynamic central midfielder, capable of impacting play at both ends of the pitch. At PSG, he became a Swiss army knife, as likely to be parachuted in to play at left-back as he was to be fielded as a right winger or a central midfielder. He has started just 25 Ligue 1 games, scored just four goals and struggled to find rhythm in a side which doesn’t seem to know how to use him.

He was booed by fans ahead of PSG’s surprise 3-1 defeat to Toulouse on Sunday, which partly reflects his failure to find a place in the fans’ hearts but was also, to a certain extent, an unfortunate case of a player ‘catching strays’ – his name was announced after that of Kylian Mbappé, whose decision to leave the club has not gone down well.

Nevertheless, he has not lived up to PSG’s towering expectations – but when you dig down into the stats, the suggestion is that he hasn’t actually dropped of at all in terms of his output. The player who so impressed at Valencia and forced his way into the Spanish side is still there.

Starting with his goalscoring, there’s no question that going from 22 goals in two seasons to four represents a huge drop-off, but the explanation is straightforward – he isn’t taking penalties any more. 14 of his 22 goals between 2020 and 2022 for Valencia came from 18 yards out, and he’s actually working at an almost identical amount of xG created from open play at PSG as he did at Valencia. He simply scored so many penalties that he developed an unsustainable reputation as a goalscorer.

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And the same story become clear across the board – his passing is just as accurate, he’s creating just as many chances per 90 minutes of play, he’s getting into the opposing box just as often… in fact, the only area in which decline is visible from the stats is in his tackling, where he has struggled uncharacteristically this season.

The long and short of it, though, is that Soler still looks like a very fine player who has simply not found the right home since leaving Valencia. He has bounced about the pitch, been in and out of the starting side, and not used as well as he might have been, despite the fact that his club manager Luis Enrique is the same man who brought him into the national fold. But he’s still versatile, a dangerous passer, has excellent movement going forward and generates a healthy volume of chances for his team.

At Villa, he could easily fit in at both central midfield, where reinforcements may be required with Boubacar Kamara expected to miss the start of the season with an ACL injury, or on the right wing, where extra bodies are needed. He doesn’t have express pace, but he can hustle well enough out wide and he rarely stops working. He’s got a good engine, a good touch and delivers a very decent final ball.

None of the reports have yet made a solid suggestion as to what the price point might be. PSG have three more years on his contract, which gives them a fair amount of leverage when it comes to setting the fee, but once players start getting heckled by the Parisian faithful they seldom stick around long. They may try to make their money back, but it’s unlikely his fee would move too far past £15m unless there was a lot of competition.

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It sounds as though Emery – who managed at Valencia while a teenage Soler came through the youth ranks – is pretty keen to land Soler this summer. He would probably be a very fine acquisition for the cost and would add a bit of quality and a lot of effective depth to the squad. Ahead of a first Champions League campaign in more than 40 years, that could make him a very useful addition indeed.

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