With smiles, and a warm cough - Dean Smith was unveiled to the press and the public as the new Head Coach of Aston Villa FC. Seated next to Christian Purslow, Villa’s CEO, before an array of recording devices. He is greeted by a journalist.
Dean beams back with a smile he can’t break. He’s the boss and it’s time to answer some questions.
‘What does it mean - to him - to be the Head Coach of this particular club?’
He tries to shake it off - he can’t deny that his love for the club is there due to his childhood, and his father’s role as a match-day steward at Villa Park. However, he’s involved in football for reasons beyond Aston Villa. It’s his career and for over 30 years, Dean’s been working his way up to this point. While he states that the decision to accept the Villa job was a rational decision rather than an emotional decision, there is clearly a lot of depth to his answers - more than just loaded. He comes across like he’s just sat down with a fresh pint at The Bell, The Beeches or The Towers; one of few Great Barr pubs he’d have no doubt visited once upon a time, especially when he states that the emotional part of accepting the job came from his friends and family - mostly carrying the Villa colours.
Dean’s also aware of the challenge that ‘we’ (his words) face. Villa must improve. His Villa must improve. They are 15th and that’s not good enough.
‘How important is John Terry to you?’
A lot was made of John Terry’s appointment, and it’s clear where he stands - as one of a few members of Dean Smith’s coaching team at Villa. Smith knows how important a good coaching team is. It’s only natural that he’s bought Terry into the team along with Richard O’Kelly. Terry knows Villa internally - which to Smith and anyone else, is a good fit.
‘What about the squad?’
Dean was a few players down, because of international duty - but is impressed with the quality of the squad, and their openness. They all want to get better; and that seems to be something that Villa’s new Head Coach is relishing as his challenge approaches. Smith also commented on Steve Bruce’s departure, knowing that he’s only in this position because someone else has lost their job.
The next few questions was aimed at the CEO - Christian Purslow.
‘Why did you appoint Dean Smith? What are his qualities?’
Purslow purred when asked this question. A stoic figure compared to Dean’s comfortable, approachable manner. Villa’s CEO mentioned Dean’s approach to the game, his experience and his impressive philosophy as well as the motivation behind everything Dean does - as someone who understands everything that comes to mind when the name Aston Villa is mentioned.
‘What about John Terry?’
Loaded questions where asked in regards to John Terry and his exact role at the club, but by this point it is quite clear that he is simply a member of the coaching staff and someone who both Dean and Villa will try to develop into a future manager. Purslow stated that Terry understands Aston Villa deeply, and will be able to help Dean ‘hit the ground running’. He also says that it’s great that one of England’s greatest footballers wants to begin his career as a - hopefully - great manager at Aston Villa.
‘Can Villa and Dean invest and improve the squad come January?’
Purslow didn’t wait long to answer this - Villa can invest in January (how?)
One of Villa’s most important appointments aside from their new Head Coach is that of the Sporting Director. Jesus Garcia Pitarch will take over that very role, following his past at Atletico Madrid and Valencia. Dean Smith, has experience in allowing someone else to shape the squad, while he coaches and controls the tactical side of things. It’s expected that Purslow & Pitarch will listen to Dean’s assessment on the squad and approach January based on this.
‘Dean, your first game will be a sell-out and it’s also marking the sad passing of Doug Ellis. How do you feel about this one?’
Clearly, Dean is looking forward to the game. Clearly, he’s also sad about the passing of Doug Ellis. Clearly he is also hoping there’s a great atmosphere at the ground and clearly, he wants Villa Park to be a fortress.
‘3 games in six days, is that a good thing?’
It’s obvious to everyone watching that Dean knows he has to hit the ground running in some style. Thankfully, he believes Villa’s squad is up to the task.
‘Is promotion realistic?’
Smith knows that the only reason he is leading Villa, is because the previous manager failed. That means that he comes in at a pretty bad time. Villa have to turn around one win in ten to move forward. He’s aware that promotion is the goal, and the aim - and believes Villa can stand out in an open league and improve.
‘Christian, there was a big talk in the summer about FFP issues. How is that resolved?’
The big one. Christian is not just confident, but he’s respectful of the rules and regulations (he did sit on the board that helped create them). Purslow says nothing has changed, the squad will be improved - and they can operate within the rules. He is asked if he will break them. Purslow states that Villa will ‘absolutely not’ break the financial fair play & profit and sustainability rules. The room goes quiet for 5 seconds.
‘Christian, what will Pitarch bring to the Sporting Director role?’
Purslow repeats his line about Pitarch - but states that Pitarch is responsible for the day-to-day football operations at Villa. That means almost everything. Nutrition. Travel. Buying. Selling. Contracts. It’s all down to Pitarch. Not only that, this is the model that Aston Villa are backing as it maximises the Head Coach’s time spent managing Aston Villa.
‘How have you found the situation you have inherited at Aston Villa?’
A bit of a loaded question for Purslow, again. He handles it well - saying that he’s enjoying it (what else can he say?) but it has been eventful - and reckons that it’s a start of a new direction for Aston Villa. The right setup is in place for Villa to become an excellent football club - and that will be defined regardless of where Villa play their football - and they will have to earn their position in the Premier League with ‘thoughtful planning & excellent appointments’. Purslow states that Villa’s balance is all clear and the financial backing of NSWE is strong enough to help Villa enact their ideas.
‘Dean, as a local lad - how many messages have you had about this news?’
Purslow and Smith enjoy their first slice of banter - with Purslow jabbing Smith about his family and friends asking for free tickets. The timing was a bit tough, personally - as his wife was recovering from an operation when he went for the job. Thankfully, it seems to be have been the right decision for himself and his family. He’s also looking forward to the lie-in, as he won’t have to travel to London every day.
Smith mentions his upbringing in Great Barr - a 10-20 minute walk from Villa Park and that everyone seems to be pleased that he (a local lad) is in charge. However, Smith states that he has earned this seat for reasons greater than his support of Aston Villa through a lot of hard work. He knows what it means to manage Aston Villa - and he says he can handle the stress of this job quite well, knowing that the club he now coaches has to earn their place in the Premier League.
‘Was it a no-brainer to take this role?’
It is because of Brentford FC and their role in Dean Smith’s life that he had to think twice about taking the role at Villa. He had to make sure Villa was a project - in the same manner as Brentford - he hasn’t taken this just because he likes the club, but to learn, grow and help Villa improve. It’s a great job and Dean wanted to play for Villa - so this is the next best thing.
‘How important was it to bring Richard O’Kelly with you?’
Dean is obviously happy that his second-in-command has followed him to Aston Villa to work with John Terry, so that he can delegate tasks between two senior coaches to help him make final decisions in an open-door policy.
Dean and Purslow left the room following their discussion - with some very satisfying answers given to some fairly loaded questions. We’ll all be debating Purslow’s answers - especially in regards to FPP - but it looks largely positive.
For more on Smith, Villa posted a lone interview with the new Head Coach, which covers most of the same ground as the above press conference.