While some think it was time and some don’t, there’s been a near unanimous outpouring of affection, respect, admiration, and gratitude for Dean Smith in the wake of his sudden departure from the club he loved. Not a common thing. It’s right and good to see.

Yes, he’s one of our own, and yes, that’s a big part of what made the last three years special. But he’s also a genuinely decent and kind man who restored a lot of what had been missing from Villa for years: A sense of optimism and honesty. Of players being developed, a culture being created and nurtured where there’d been none—just a succession of panicked, financially based decisions leading to a merry-go-round of managerial personalities, styles, methods, and players.

Culture Going Forward
When it comes to the lack of “playing identity,” I think culture is different than identity, or philosophy. Maybe it’s just semantics, but when it comes to a manager’s philosophy, that’s about how you think the game should be played. Culture contains that, but it’s broader.

How are players treated, what does it feels like to go to work at Bodymoor? Are the players and staff proud? Do they feel like they’re being prepared well and given a chance to succeed? Is there a climate of trust or one of fear? Are character and effort sought and rewarded? Are appraisals and evaluations based on objective criteria versus whims? Is competition healthy or toxic? Is the expectation of winning ingrained? Who’s in charge? Are managers able to make the necessary decisions?

Short version: What does Aston Villa actually stand for? That’s more than “counterattacking” or “possession-based” football. And any manager that comes in has to fit or complement that preexisting culture. That’s what gives a club its true identity: a sense of continuity and values beyond any one manager.

When we consider the five-year plan, we think about two things: Europe at the end and youth development. Youth development is certainly part of a club’s culture. Expectations? Yeah, they’re a part of culture, too. As is how you go about meeting them. It’s necessary to set goals, necessary to aspire, to “show ambition.” It’s also good to understand that going from an “embarrassment,” as John Gregory put it, to a model of achievement, progress, and sound, sustainable stewardship is not something that happens overnight. Villa have come a long way.

So when you decide to replace Dean Smith, it’s not just one man. There’s his staff. The relationship to the academy set-up and the young players looking to break through. The feeling inside the club, whether there’s a pathway. And without a firmly established culture, any managerial change threatens to undo what had been established.

For me, Dean Smith was doing all the right things as far as culture. I hope that bit sticks.

The New Gaffer
I’ve gone on at length about how Villa have gotten to the point and squad they have. All the various caveats I’ve pointed out when assessing Smith’s tenure. And going forward, no one will be able to say whether Smith would’ve turned it round or whether he’d hit his ceiling. A new manager succeeding won’t prove that Dean wouldn’t have, though some will take it that way.

Regardless, despite the affection for Smith, I don’t think there’ll be many who root for the new man to fail to prove a point about Dean. I’m guessing there were probably more looking for Smith to fail to prove their own points. But, water under the bridge. And to be fair, I did see at least one supporter saying he could never support Gerrard.

Me, I certainly hope we can make the change and get to where Smith thought he’d get the squad himself: top half. Whoever comes in should finally have virtually the entire squad to choose from and enough time to work.

As I’ve mentioned, the concern I have is the same as everyone’s…Will we get it right? As far as playing staff go, I’d like to think anyone reasonably experienced and intelligent will get a tune from them sooner or later. There’s enough talent to be at least mid-table, and maybe Villa are one January addition away from beefing up the midfield and taking another step.

Off the pitch, my hope is that Villa remains a good place to be, a model club. That the sense we got our club back doesn’t diminish, and that we don’t get an unhappy dressing room or unnecessary summer exodus. Of Dean’s players, one might figure Konsa and Mings shouldn’t be too concerned, but McGinn might be, Ollie and some others. Bailey, Buendia, and Ings might not be fussed. All depends on who comes in and how they handle things. How much Smith figured into any of the new players’ decisions is unknown. Naturally, everyone looks to a new-manager bounce, but it’s always how things play out down the line.

Decisions and Trust
A big call was made, and the case for it is there to be made. However, I remember Lerner’s anointed representatives letting him down (and he certainly let Villa down on his own, as well), and hope that if Purslow is driving the bus more than perhaps we’d imagined, that he’s getting this right. There’s every reason to believe Compass are worlds more savvy, but I’m not sure Liverpool fans would agree with them relying on Purslow.

And indeed, while Dean Smith’s parting statement was dignified and classy, it was also sprinkled with certain nuggets hinting at frustration. Some of that’s understandable, of course. He’d have backed himself. But it also hints at possible behind-the-scenes scenarios that might be concerning.

But even if they are true, and it results in success, then fair enough. Success builds its own kind of goodwill. The downside is obviously that a blunder here will undo a lot of the goodwill and good feelings that have returned and Villa could in many ways be back to square one. And success at any cost can also feel a bit empty. Like the Etihad.

No one wants that, and certainly not Edens and Sawiris, though they may well feel that getting Villa into Europe will assuage any heartburn about how we get there. It was easy to trust with Dean and Jack leading the club and money being spent. As Villa enter a new era with both gone, fans will extend that trust. But trust is easy to lose. So here’s hoping they’ve placed their bets wisely.

Last but Certainly Not Least
Thank you, Dean Smith. We’re grateful for all you’ve done and sad to see you go. No Villan wishes you anything but the best.

Over to you.

Comments 79

  1. John, thanks for a super, heartfelt piece and as you say, the response from the vast majority of the fans has indeed been telling. Some of the most common comments I’ve seen are: he gave us our club back; he made us proud to be villans again; he’s a decent man and we wish him all the best for the future.
    It’s rare for a manager to leave with such good wishes from the fanbase.

  2. JG, I was interested in some stats you quoted in the last thread and asked where they came from. They probably are genuine, but as someone who writes articles for a Science magazine I always have to verify and provide references for any ‘facts’ I quote which is probably why I like to see the source data for myself. I’m sure you’re right that they were widely quoted, but as you know that doesn’t make them true. I wasn’t actually doubting them when I asked you for then source data, I just wanted to read the full set of data for myself.
    As it happens, in my latest article, I had mentioned something which I’d verified from 3 sources but the Editor is now questioning and I fear I may be embarrassed to find I hadn’t checked thoroughly enough!

  3. John Percy saying Gerrard is interested and we will approach Rangers.

    This is the bit from the article J like

    “The club want a big name and a strong character and want that individual to make Villa a challenging and intense environment for the players, Villa are likely to also move for Gerrard’s assistants Gary McAllister and Michael Beale if, as expected, talks are successful”

    Smith was to soft. He didn’t demand enough and didn’t drop players not performing. Watkins for example has been disgraceful this season. Mcginn has been awfull bar one game. Etc etc

    Gerrard will be ruthless

  4. Stevie G the one the press are really talking up yet the least experienced
    You can’ bully a team into being good in this day and age its about advanced coaching where the players feel and can see the benefits of listening to the manager

    so so poor in Europe Stevie his lack of philosophy exposed

    Nice for the excellent send of notes JC

    Big decision for the club really hope they get it right and we get a philosophy at the club finally

  5. Robbo
    It was official data from pl that I had seen ,The usual shots,on target off target corners,we ranged from 15 th to 20 th ,as I wrote in last post cash can get forward without much end product yet takes an age getting back,like Hutton,we suffered since mons time with crap players and managers we are to quick to make heroes out of average ones

  6. We need a manager sorted quick even if it’s Gerard ,not my choice by a long way but then he is not a Bruce type either used to failure,
    If Gerard doesn’t work out it will also be the end of purslow,so I guess he will get a hefty transfer budget

  7. Runtings.

    Gerrard got Rangers to the last 16 two seasons running I believe. I might be wrong.

    But if he did, that’s not bad what so ever

  8. Good write up John. Like i said in the previous blog, i am firmly in the corner that we should make a left field appointment. Someone out of the blue. Purslow is the one pushing for Gerrard and like someone has said here, his philosophy was exposed by an average Malmo side.
    Bo Svensson, Adi Hutter, Marco Rose, Jesse Marsch and the current FC Salzburg coach Matthias Jaissle are all excellent options. We need a manager who not only is a good coach, but has tactical nous. Someone who will blood more youth players than Smith ever did.
    NSWE have invested a lot in youth talent. They have also invested heavily in bringing the likes of Bailey, Buendia, Ings, Mings, Martinez and others here. I doubt Gerrard will be any better than Dean. The media will be having field days with about his love affair with Liverpool.

  9. Jackvilla, I couldn’t agree more. Purslow as CEO should have all the data on those 5 names you mention plus all of the other coaches in the major leagues, European and South American. If he doesn’t, he is failing in his duty.

    If he pushes for Stevie G because he knows him, we and he in particular could be in big trouble.

  10. yeah have to say gerrard has done crazy good with rangers in europe.

    2 last 16 places on the trot is some going, against decent teams too.

    its easy to say its just the scottish league but someone did i write up i just saw of rangers before gerard and rangers now….hes done a very good job building a strong 22.

    does seem like we need beale with him. very highly rated and aparently the brains behind it

  11. i dont buy into experience at all. or you must have prem exeprience. if your good your good, you have to start somewhere.

    think gerrard would make players play for him and have that fear factor too. you wouldnt piss him off

  12. Purslow was always going to appoint a British manager.

    At Liverpool he got Roy

    He got Smith here now Gerrard

    He will never go for an unknown

  13. The reassuring aspect of Gerrard’s style is that it’s not that much different than how we were playing, and matches up to the personnel we have.

    Whether Targett and Cash are up to the demands remains to be seen. Cash probably more so. Likewise, the gegenpresse element.

  14. Gerrard is the bookies favourite, and everyone is talking about it, as if it is a done deal, but the very latest news is that Rangers have still not been officially approached by Villa, so we still need to be a little more patient.
    On another front, what has been confirmed, is that the Czech billionaire has bought 27% of the club, and will bring a great deal to the club. They are also keen to sign Sam Johnstone at the end of the season, when he will be on a free transfer. A very wise move on their point.
    the “hated” Karen Brady has done such a bad job for the Hammers!!!

  15. Blimey Stevie is the best we can do in pursuit of top 6 with so many football guru’s out there
    reading Barkley will be his first signing .. onwards and sidewards

    hope I am wrong but if feel it will end in tears for purslow and pal , hopefully I know nothing and Stevie gets us firing until Kloop leaves pool

  16. runtings

    nah dude nothing but good vibes.

    and if gerrarrd does good enough for pool to want him ill be very happy!

    and lets face it if any manager does that well theyll be gone, including deano!

  17. the one thing i love about gerrard is he has what only a few of the elite have.

    a desperate desire to win. like proper winning mentality. doesnt matter what its in or how much money you earn, he hates losing with a passion.

    so can rest assure he will be on it

  18. Heroes why would any one that’s good be off we are not Watford AVFC should and can under the right manager with our current owners go toe to toe with any club

  19. If Gerard gets the job, I would LOVE IT, JUST LOVE it if Deano got the Rangers job, sharpened up his game and had a rest from the Villa cauldron. Then who knows what.

  20. Gerrard will sort our shambolic midfield out. He will improve what we have but also buy in January.

    He will be ruthless and not accept shite.

    He will also get us so much better in possession

  21. I think the key for incomings is Purslow and Lange. Don’t know that for sure, but that’s the conclusion I’m coming to. Dean would’ve had a voice, but wasn’t the final say.

    So, if CP is enamored of Gerrard, it will go a long way toward Gerrard getting his players.

  22. Nice link frem

    I’m amped for Gerard. Just listened to a great interview which reminds me of Deano saying about culture. Gerrard the same, he says all staff are family. The most Important people are the canteen lady’s and behind the scenes staff. Have to be treated with respect. This guys grown up and been at pool all his life. He will have crazy high standards

  23. You just wonder how much they’ve had this in mind. Thought in the summer we had to sign more. We only spent the jack money. I wonder if they had it in the back of there mind to leave money for the new guy in Jan

  24. H&V,

    Well, there were people speculating on here over the summer that they didn’t spend more money because they “didn’t want to give it to Smith.”

    So, while that seemed a bit conspiratorial to me, the way this has played out lends it more credence. As has the fact that I’m seeing he’s been promised a huge transfer kitty for January.

    Almost like someone knew we’d struggle initially without Jack…?

  25. Ye I think it twas a huge indication in the summer with us only spending 90 million that the board didn’t have all faith in Smith.

    That money will be saved for the summer. We may spend a little bit in January but probably not much.

    The most important thing Gerrard will bring is ruthlessness.

    He won’t keep playing Watkins every game even though he’s been horrific all season

  26. Welcome to VP Stevie G. Looking forward to seeing some great football from our boys.

    Whilst not my first choice, I’ll get right behind his appointment and leave Purslow to face the music in the evnt it goes tits up.

    Can’t wait for the next game now. COYVB.

  27. Thanks for the podcast Frem, very interesting his philosophy, and the influence of Rafa Benitez on him, making him a great player, and not just a very good player!
    I like what he said, especially about letting players have opportunity to prove what they can do. I do not expect to see wholesale changes, but a change in mindset and attitude, and more especially the desire to win.
    Interesting that Purslow has said about his influence in the Liverpool Academy, and help to develop young players. He really sees Gerard as the perfect fit to bring the best out of the squad, including the youth.
    I am sure as the weeks unfold , we will see a more cohesive team, without splashing out millions .
    He will spend around £60million in January on one or two important players, if he needs to.
    Until then let us see how he improves the existing squad.

  28. Interesting article on Gerard’s first team coach, Michael Beale. https://www.footballscotland.co.uk/spfl/scottish-premiership/michael-beales-rangers-managerial-credentials-22120965

    I hope Stevie is more involved (unlike OGS at ManU) and doesn’t leave everything to McAllister and Beale plus the two that were retained from Smith’s time. Creating a positive atmosphere and inclusion is important, so are tactics and 1 on 1 trainings if we want to improve. Wishing him well though unconvinced at the moment.

  29. Villalore,
    Another interesting article, which confirms that the best are often a two man outfit.
    Clough failed without Peter Taylor, and it seems that Dean maybe was the same without ROK, and good to see that Stevie recognises Michael Beale’s tole alongside him.
    It also looks like we will get the rest of Stevie G’s backroom boys, which again is a big plus.
    Will Ross Barkley be his first signing, could be a bargain for Villa, as he seems to be coming back at Chelsea a little, and a second chance at Villa, could be the making of him and Villa. He i certainly looking a lot fitter. He could be a great addition with his strength on the ball.
    Maybe we could steal James Milner from Liverpool too. What a huge difference those two could make in steeling up out team.
    Nkamba could develop into another Kante. Ollie and Danny Ings would certainly benefit from an in form Barkley!

  30. Great write up JC. I also applaud DS for what he did for Villa and the culture he has created. It’s hard to believe how much he progressed the club over 3 years. I wish him the best when he gets a new club and I’ll cheer for that club.

    A couple of points on Gerrard. If I was a player, I’d burst a gut to prove myself to him. If I was at another club I’d be excited to join his club.

  31. Welcome Stevie Gerard strange move in replacing smith with a novice, would guess purslow is putting his job on line now,
    Only 2 managers I never wanted McLeish because apart from his spell at rangers he was a failure,yes he won a cup for the blues aside his type of football beggared belief along with signing Hutton,and Bruce who left every club he managed in a mess when sacked

  32. Well he wasn’t my first choice (or second or third either come to that) but now he’s here I’ll be wishing him every bloody success possible!
    Pass this test and he’ll really go places and we’ll take a step forward in the process. I’m now looking forward with a touch of excitement to our next game. Let’s hope he has close to a fully fit, squad un-hampered by jet lag or covid and the team play out of their skins to prove their worth to their new manager. Given all those falling in our (and his favour) and we could just see a lovely bounce. . . . . let’s hope so!

  33. R0bb0,

    Agreed to a certain extinct. For me I wanted Lampard for his midfield experience (which is a weakness for us) and ability to work with youth, hopefully the scouter can deliver as well.

    I saw Jacob Ramsey was MoM for England U21 vs Check. Great start

  34. Be interesting what team Gerard picks for Brighton,
    Me I would like to see a 433 ,but our Midfield is weak no matter what 3 we pick
    Martinez cash Konsa ming’s target Luis sanson mcginn beundi Ings and watkins
    Even tho I think target mcginn and Watkins should be dropped for past performances clean slate starting this week, hope they have all learned how to run pass tackle and shoot in international break

  35. JG, I think it’s really difficult to suggest which team Gerrard should put out as we don’t know just what he’s looking for in our players and how he may think about using them. We also don’t know how they’ll respond to whatever new training regimes will be introduced.
    We’ve all seen players fail at one club and thrive at another or under a new manager so I’m happy to wait and see just what SG brings next weekend.

    Jacob Ramsey did well to lay down such a strong marker last night though and it won’t have gone unnoticed.

  36. Not that I don’t want Stevie G to succeed at B6, I believe this was in the wind before Dean’o got let go. The interview process was non existent from what I have read or seen over here. It’s like some back hander’s and feelers had gone out before hand and the answer came back he’s very interested but the seat has to be vacated first. Of coarse that’s only my opinion but I think CP had been reading all the tweets and what have you from Deans nay sayer’s and started putting out the feelers. Anyhow non of us can change what’s happened, all we can do is raise our voices and thank Dean from bringing us back from the brink and Bruce ball. I genuinely wish Dean all the best at his next club, and if it’s still in the Prem we should give him an ovation when he returns to B6 with who ever it is!!!

  37. Canadian V, I think we all have the strong sense that the change was decided on some time ago and it’s only the timing which wasn’t finally agreed. It makes me feel uncomfortable as it’s at odds with everything we’d previously been led to believe about the future management of the club. There have been efforts made to show that the club are open and value genuine feedback from the fans but that now feels disingenuous and smacks of window dressing.

    I am perfectly fine with the club managing the club to achieve the best results they can and if they perceived that replacing Dean Smith by Steven Gerrard will do that then I’m prepared to trust them on that. . . . .they have far more data and inside information then I, or any other fan will ever have.

    As far as I am concerned I will however in future take what they say with a pinch of salt.

  38. CV & r0bb0,

    My thoughts exactly. If the change works out, great, we’re all behind the club, of course, and manager (until we aren’t). But it does alter some perceptions.

  39. Well done Matty Cash on his debut for Poland. . . .can only do him good.
    In contrast, Grealish was only a second half substitute for England and achieved the lowest but one player ranking on the BBC site.
    He’s lost his way just now. I’d bet on him regaining it but he can’t be enjoying the current fall from grace.

  40. Well there you have it. You are a vested member of the Aston Villa fan club with no financial investment in. Millions of fans with no say. NSWE, two men at the top with 100% vested financial interest in the club. It’s theirs to do as they see fit. Sure, they are custodians but only till they sell and then there is someone else with their visions on what to do.
    They sold Jack and we whined. They sacked Smith and we whined and you know what? The stands will be packed next week.
    The owners are going to do what they think is best. Obviously they thought Gerrard was a better option and like CV said, they did due diligence and waited for the moment. Their mind was made up regardless if Smith won a couple leading up to his sack. All it would have done is make the blow back more harsh. Every business has a sell on by. Do you keep your car until it is totally trashed or try to estimate when it’s about to crater and pawn it off on someone else? Maybe Dean was still on the upswing, maybe not. Obviously not in the eyes of the owners.
    I didn’t like the way it was done but every team does it that way—mostly. They have someone in the wings waiting.
    I know Smith can build a team and have great results but I don’t know if he can make top six. That’s what was in the owners’ minds.

  41. r0bb0,

    It’s what everyone sort of wondered with Jack, eh? How many times do those big moves backfire?

    Not saying it’s permanent…I loved Jack, he has a lot of class. Truly gifted. He’ll probably adapt.

    That said, he’s not a cog, and no one really thought it was good for him to become one.

  42. Ian,

    Don’t disagree, though I’m still unsure how much rests on Compass or Purslow.

    Reading all about Gerrard as everyone is. “Narrow 4-3-3, force play out wide.”

    Seem to recall saying Smith wanted to play narrow and force it wide. Maybe it’s the assistant, Beale, who’ll make the difference, along with a change in personality and a blank slate.

    Right now, I see slightly different pressing responsibilities from the film breakdowns being offered. Or maybe not so different (depending on how instructions are followed).

    We’ll see what ends up being different once we see Villa trying it…Beyond Beale, one hopes a world-class midfielder can inspire/do some work with what we’ve got for now.

  43. Cutler is staying which is great.

    I don’t get why we are keeping Mcphee and Danks as well. We we will have a big coaching team

    I listened to Mike Beale and he something vital

    That the front 3 always need to change and be unpredictable in games movement etc. That’s something we we were never under smkth. We were so rigid and predictable

    Hr also wants to control the ball which is great

  44. He also said the back 4 should always be solid and everything starts from defence. If you are solid at the back the players have to do less running meaning the front lads have more energy to attack

    I love Gerrard and Beale already

    I can’t wait

  45. JC, your point about Jack is exactly what I had in mind. If all that mattered to him was money and being part of a squad that will probably win things right now then he’s gone to the right place. We can all name players who’ve moved to taste the greener grass only to find that what looked bright green from a distance is patchy with muddy bits when viewed close up.
    To Steven Gerrard’s credit he stuck with his childhood club, despite many lucrative offers and is still revered for it in his home city.

  46. Usual media crap coming out about Stevie G raiding Rangers for a couple of players in January. Should that happen, we will be going backwards very quickly.

  47. I’m looking forward to next weekend’s game to see how much of a bounce we get from the change in coaching staff. Not expecting much due to limited time or no time with the international players. Even so, I’m expecting a rocking VP.

  48. H&V you’re right, it will be interesting to see who joins Dean Smith’s team and will give us some pointers to what may have gone on behind the scenes and also may give an indication on whether Dean Smith sensed that pressure was being applied prior to the final decision being made.

  49. I’ve seen a few people eulogising over videos of Gerrard and Beale talking about their beliefs styles and methods. They both seem to be saying the right things and I’ve not seen anything that puts me off them at all. On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes them stand out as being especially different from anyone else and I guess that’s what you’d expect. Most managers will want to present themselves as being supportive of players; working with and developing players; being so pleased at being at such a big club etc etc.
    It would however be interesting to know what made Gerard and his team stand out to the decision makers in the club but I doubt we’ll ever hear that.
    As ever, it will all come down to results on the pitch and although I was one of those not in favour of Gerrard being our new manager, I do hope that everyone gives him all the support they can, and not just for the first two or three games.
    No doubt, if we were to lose a series of our early games there’d be people, who call themselves ‘supporters’, shouting Gerrard out. Any new manager needs time to bed in, get to know his players and get them playing how he wants. Whatever happens, we’re not going to be changing manager again this season so let’s all get behind him and the players. As Plug says, Villa Park should be rocking next weekend but Villa Park should be rocking ‘every’ weekend. . . . . even if early results are not what we’d hope for.

  50. Nice to see our girls get their first derby win under their belt, beating Birmingham City 1-0!
    Ignoring all the usual media rubbish about which of Gerrard’s players are going to be signed in January. I am sure he will want to assess what he has first.

    I am also sure that Purslow had him in mid for some while, and it was just a question of when he would bring him to Villa Park. The time eventually was right and the conversation took place, as it does between friends, and the wheels were put in motion.
    This time we are providing the deal to Norwich, which I am sure will be better than the one we wished on ourselves when we ended up with Lambert, but we shall watch with great interest!

Leave a Reply