Hes not as glamorous as Thierry Henry, but Dean Smith can rebuild broken Aston Villa
Aston Villas appointment of Dean Smith caps the end of a frustrating start to a third consecutive season in the Championship and offers hope of a bright new beginning.
Since the days of Martin ONeill, Villa have been a club treading water. Moving from one quick fix to the next, with little cohesion from the boardroom down to the players.
Given the relentless barrage of setbacks Villa fans have suffered, its perhaps hard for levels of excitement to peak above cautious optimism but the appointment of Smith may prove to be the first step in a long process of restoring the club to its former glories.
Smith was always one of the main contenders for the managerial post, but it looked as if he would be passed over in favour of a more glamorous addition.
The headlines were ready made for Arsenal legend Thierry Henry to put the va va voom back into Villa Park, while Jose Mourinhos former assistant Rui Faria would have been an intriguing addition.
They also resisted the temptation to hand John Terry the top job, though his return as assistant manager is a fascinating sideplot to Smiths arrival.
For Smith, there is no better job to land. Hes a lifelong Aston Villa fan. His father worked as a steward at the ground.
Having worked on a limited budget at Brentford – and Walsall before that – the 47-year-old has arrived at the biggest spenders in Englands second tier, with matching expectations.
From the outside looking in, its easy to see why some would fail to understand the sacking of Steve Bruce (although ludicrous claims that he never won over fans because of his Birmingham City connections rightly irked Holte Enders).
Bruce left Villa sat in 13th – just two points outside the play-offs with 35 games left to play. It hardly sounds disastrous.
But their league position alone ignores context.
He was arguably a dead man walking after failing to take a ridiculously strong Championship squad up last season – losing in the play-off final to Fulham. A complete financial meltdown pushed Bruces future right down the pecking order.
Villa were eventually rescued by new mega-rich owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris – who also ensured the safekeeping of prized asset Jack Grealish – but with the season fast approaching, it was deemed a safer bet to stick with Bruce.
A hurried and muddled recruitment drive followed. While there were exciting attacking arrivals in the form of Tammy Abraham, Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi, Bruce inexplicably sanctioned the sale
of Tommy Elphick on loan to Championship rivals Hull without first guaranteeing a replacement.
While Elphick has hardly pulled up trees since his arrival at Villa Park, he was at least a recognised centre-back. But Bruce continued his tradition of putting square pegs in round holes by thrusting Mile Jedinak into the heart of the defence.
In fact, his favoured back four this season was farcical. Alan Hutton – a right-back – has largely played at left-back. Axel Tuanzebe – one of the only two players in the squad who are recognised as out-and-out centre-backs was pushed out to right-back. Jedinak – a defensive midfielder – played at centre-back. Only James Chester was afforded the luxury of playing in his favoured position.
A shoddy defence has been matched by equally shoddy goalkeeping options, with Orjan Nyland, Andre Moreira and Mark Bunn all failing to impress. How Bruce must have missed Sam Johnstone.
But despite those defensive shortcomings, Bruce would surely have been given a stay of execution if he had installed some sort of gameplan and attacking style. The tactics were as hopeless as the team selections.
That said, Bruce did not deserve to be pelted by a cabbage in his final match in charge – as no manager does – but that green vegetable proved to be the symbol of Villa fans discontent reaching breaking point.
Though these were problems largely of Bruces making, Smith has his work cut out to eradicate them quickly.
He will have to make best use of a top-heavy squad at least until the January transfer window, when he will surely be backed to bolster his backline. Using players in the right position would be a start.
Forging some form of team identity rather than just relying on individual brilliance will also be high on the agenda. It could be a busy week or so before they host Swansea.
The former centre-half made Brentford one of the Championships most attractive footballing sides but can he find a system that suits this talented Villa squad, particularly Grealish? Does he have the gravitas to motivate a crop of players who believe theyre good enough to play in the Premier League?
Certain Brentford insiders have suggested that he benefitted greatly from the well-oiled structure at Griffin Park and it should be noted that Brentford finished fifth in the season before Smith took over, while his highest-placed finish was ninth. Will he thrive in the chaotic madhouse in Aston?
Smith can expect to be heavily backed by the Villa faithful. Hes one of their own. And they will give him time to get things right, particularly if he implements a style of play to get the best out of his vast attacking options and thrill those in the stands.
Unfortunately for the former Walsall boss, time isnt necessarily on his side.
Villa still have the shadow of Financial Fair Play hanging over them and almost certainly face heavy sanctions if they fail to find a way out of the division this year.
From that perspective, another quick-fix approach in the form of Sam Allardyce and David Moyes could have been tempting, while a shot in the arm from Henry would no doubt have brought a real buzz to Villa Park. Instead, theyve opted for a proven Championship coach over a name.
Smith is certainly not the greatest selling point from a commercial perspective, but hes earned the right to take control of his boyhood club.
For too many years Villa have sleepwalked through seasons with little forethought. Now they have a man who can build for the future.
More: Arsenal FC