Express & Star

Former manager backing Aston Villa to stay at the top

Former boss Dean Smith believes Villa have entered a new era of success following the “incredible achievement” of qualifying for the Champions League.


Smith won promotion from the Championship in 2019 and then stabilised the club in the Premier League, signing many of the players who have now gone to the next level and secured a fourth place finish under Unai Emery.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Smith explained how Villa’s owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens had outlined plans to reach the Champions League in five years following promotion. Now it has been achieved, he believes the club has the ambition to remain near the top.

Asked if qualifying for the Champions League represented a new dawn, Smith replied: “I believe it will because of the owners’ passion and drive to become one of those teams who can be a top-six team every year.

“I remember when I first went for talks with Suso, Christian Purslow and the owners and there was a five-year plan to get into the Champions League. This is the fifth year and their plan has come to fruition.”

Smith, now managing Charlotte FC in the USA, was responsible for the signings of Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konsa from his former club, Brentford. World Cup winning goalkeeper Emi Martinez was also signed on his watch. Smith said: “The owners had a vision, had to spend for what they wanted to do and going from the Championship to the Champions League in five years is an incredible achievement.

“I believed it was achievable. I said when we were promoted the next step was to stay up, and once we did, we spent our money really well, we brought in Ollie Watkins, Matty Cash, Bertrand Traore and Ross Barkley on loan.

“I always felt after finishing 17th in that first year, climbing six or seven places would be really achievable, which is what we did (finishing 11th in 2020-21). The next step of climbing two or three places was going to be hard because you were trying to pass established clubs.

“You were always going to have to overtake one of them to get to that elite level. Unai has done unbelievably well.”