How Aston Villa Manager Dean Smith Went From The Depths Of League One To The Cusp Of The Premier League
A total of 36 managerial appointments were made across the Premier League and Football League during the course of the 2018/19 season, both permanent and temporary.
There were those that were short-lived, such as Paul Scholes’ blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 31-day stint at Oldham, Harry Kewell’s short-lived 74-day spell at Notts County, and Claudio Ranieri’s failed return to the Premier League at Fulham.
Other gaffers enjoyed more success, including Mick Harford who led Luton to the League One title. Rookie boss Sol Campbell saved Macclesfield from the dreaded drop down to non-league level, Wally Downes rescued AFC Wimbledon from relegation, and Ralph Hasenhuttl rejuvenated Southampton.
Another boss that has proved to be a hit since his appointment is Dean Smith.
When Smith decided to leave then play-off chasing Brentford (6th) for Aston Villa (15th) back in October, he took charge of a confidence-crushed side that had slumped to one win from their final 11 games under Steve Bruce.
Smith, who brought in John Terry as his assistant, proceeded to win five of his opening eight matches. Villa then endured a tough time throughout the festive period, a rocky patch that spilled over into February, but from the start of March through to the end of the league season the rejuvenated Villans amassed 31 points from a possible 36, with their only defeat to champions Norwich City when their play-off place was already secured.
Villa then came up against James Shan’s West Brom in the semi-finals, edged their Midlands rivals out on penalties, which set up a Wembley showdown with Frank Lampard’s Derby on Monday.
“I won’t lie, it will be something special leading the Villa out at Wembley,” Smith said earlier this week.
This time last year the then Brentford boss was glued to his laptop at 11am on holiday in the USA watching Villa’s clash against Fulham in the play-off final. Fast-forward to the here-and-now and Smith will attempt to go one step better than Bruce by leading his boyhood club back into the Premier League in what is undoubtedly the biggest match of his managerial career.
After a spell as a youth team coach turned assistant manager at Leyton Orient, Smith took up the position of head of youth at Walsall in 2009. 18 months later he fended off competition from 90 other candidates to land the top job in early 2011, a temporary role which was later made permanent.
The Saddlers were rock-bottom and eight points adrift but Smith proved to be a revelation as he managed to propel the club to safety. Finishes of 19th, 9th, 13th, and 14th followed, as did a runners-up medal in the Football League Trophy final.
Smith was then lured up to the Championship by Brentford and proceeded to exceed expectations as he cemented three straight top-10 finishes, during which he employed an attacking, attractive brand of football.
Villa came calling and while boyhood supporter Smith may not have been the va-va-voom appointment a number of fans craved - linked Thierry Henry would go on to manage Monaco for all of 20 games - but it’s so far proved to be an astute piece of business.
Seven months later Smith has the best win rate of any manager in the club’s history, 48.65%, having accumulated 18 wins from 37 matches in his new job.
Smith’s managerial career has been one of gradual progress, but while many managers bag jobs based on what they achieved as a player, his story to date is a testament to hard work, patience, and talent. Now, in his 441st match in the dugout, Smith is one victory away from becoming a Premier League manager.