If anybody doubted the pulling power which head coach Steven Gerrard would bring to Aston Villa, they have their answer less than a fortnight into the Premier League outfit's January transfer window.
The Villans completed the signing of Lucas Digne from Everton for around €31 million on Thursday after the France international fell out of favor under Rafa Benitez at Goodison Park. The 28-year-old has played for Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, AS Roma and Lille OSC during his career and gives Villa another boost after the loan capture of Philippe Coutinho which has added to Gerrard's early 2022 delight.
"When Lucas became available, we jumped at the opportunity to bring him to the club," said the former Liverpool and England midfielder. "To sign a player of his pedigree and quality in the January window is a great addition to our squad and his arrival excites me and everyone associated with Aston Villa."
However, that excitement is mutual as Digne himself admitted that Gerrard's involvement, as well as Coutinho's recent arrival from Barca, was decisive in him accepting the move to Birmingham and the challenge which awaits him at Villa Park.
"It was the main factor," said the man from Meaux. "I came here for the manager. I had a very good meeting with him, and we spoke a couple of times during this month. I feel his desire to win, to show his football as a manager -- the attacking football, the possession. I am really happy to be here. It is a big project after the signing of Philippe and the club spending a lot of money last summer. I feel it is what I want and what I want to show to the fans."
Digne is now looking forward to getting started with Villa hosting Manchester United in the Premier League this Saturday as the Claret and Blue outfit look to get themselves into European contention over the second half of the season which could also see Coutinho make his debut for the club after he linked up with his new teammates and started training.
"The project is really interesting," added Digne. "You can see from last summer that the project is in a good way, and I think all the players want to be here to be part of this project. I will try to bring myself. I am a winner and I want to win every time and show my quality."
Although Digne does not have the same history with Gerrard as Coutinho, the Frenchman was seduced by the ex-LA Galaxy man's vision for Villa and the Brazilian's pre-existing relationship with Gerrard from their time together at Anfield and these two moves set a strong early benchmark for future business.
"It is a pleasure to be here -- it is a great club," said Coutinho upon his arrival. "I spoke a lot with the manager, with Stevie, and he told me about the club and his ambitions. I am very happy to be here and I am looking to enjoy my football. I have known Stevie for a long time. I played with him and I learned a lot from him. He is someone who I have big admiration for. I hope to do my best here. For sure, I will work hard, and I hope together we can do good work."
"I am looking forward to meeting the fans, to being on the pitch. I know and I feel that they are happy that I am here. I want to repay that on the pitch and enjoy my football. I am looking forward to being on the pitch. I always want to be at my best, doing my work. That is what I work hard for every day. I hope it will be a great rest of the season here."
How Gerrard looks to incorporate both into his starting XI will take a few games, although it would be reasonable to expect that Digne will be seen as an upgrade on Matt Targett at left-back. Coutinho reinforces Villa's creativity and firepower while Leon Bailey continues his recovery from injury and the potential of this group when fully fit is frightening.
There was an element on opportunism on Villa's part involved with Digne admitting via social media in the hours ahead of his move that he did not expect their time together to end this way after falling out of favor under Gerrard's former Liverpool boss Benitez at Goodison Park.
"Sometimes, it only takes one person from outside to destroy a beautiful love affair," he wrote. "What has happened and some things that was said about me in the last month has made me very sad, but I will not enter a war on words with anyone. The club do not deserve that, the fans do not deserve that -- and to be honest, I do not feel that I deserve that."
Anwar El Ghazi is not expected to move in the opposite direction to join the Toffees but in a loan move separate to Digne's arrival which is another pointer toward Gerrard's ambitious revolution which demands greater consistency than the Netherlands international is capable of providing.
The injection of quality Digne and Coutinho will bring to this Villa side is also potentially very good news for the likes of Danny Ings in attack who has struggled to catch fire since his arrival last summer and he can now expect the sort of service that he will absolutely thrive on.
Digne and Coutinho are unlikely to be the extent of Gerrard and Villa's transfer ambitions this month but there is also a fair amount of peripheral talent for the club to move on which is why El Ghazi is being allowed to leave. With one or two more changes this month, assuming that the right profiles are available, Europe might not yet be out of reach for this Brummie powerhouse.