As Aston Villa fans get used to the reality of the club’s play-off final woes, some are beginning to bring into question Steve Bruce’s aptness as manager of the club. Many have cited Bruce’s negative defensive tactics in the Fulham match as an outright failure. Surely a seasoned promotion expert should know better?
The Cottager’s nifty, offensive system found gaping holes in a deep Villa side who seemed unwilling to attack, leaving striker Lewis Grabban both isolated and frustrated. These conservative tactics were flawed and, despite the incredible experience and capabilities of centre-backs John Terry and James Chester, they simply didn’t work. Slavisa Jokanovic’s inspired and progressive side awakened a number of Aston Villa supporters to the potential need of a change in manager.
It has to be said, Steve Bruce’s tactical approach looked outdated and inefficient in the promotion decider and, naturally, his abilities are now disputed by fans. But who do they want to replace him? Brentford manager Dean Smith, according to Twitter’s Villa faithful.
The 47-year-old, who recently snubbed links to the West Brom post before Darren Moore’s appointment, is a fresh, attack-minded coach who has experience in coaching young players and, with the aid of a savvy scouting team, recruiting on a minimal budget. With Villa expected to be hit with money problems due to Financial Fair Play regulations next season, the club’s recruitment may well revolve around bargain buys and the staff may be forced to bring youth talent into the team. The purchase of John Terry, Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak in recent times has proven Bruce prefers a wise and experienced veteran over a younger star - an ideology which may not suit the state of the squad, its budget and its options in the next campaign.
I asked Aston Villa supporters their thoughts on Dean Smith on Facebook and received a rather mixed bag of replies. Giggs Sharma was all for the appointment, highlighting Smith’s preference for “attractive attacking football” and suggesting he “could get the best out of Hogan” who he coached at Brentford. Sharma and fellow supporter Wesley Woakes were hasty to remind me that Smith is a self-confessed Villa fan and this would surely mean he would have the best interests of the club at heart at all times. Nick Atkinson was keen to point out that Dean Smith “took over a team that was fresh from a play-off defeat” so has experience in spearheading a summer rebuild project.
Another fan, Matty Hawkins, put forward a rather different case. He said: “We have, since the days of Sir Doug, been too trigger-happy with managers”, later adding that “Villa need continuity”. This opinion does carry some weight. Villa’s poisonous dressing room atmosphere of years gone by has become optimistic and cheerful under Steve Bruce and some fans think familiarity and the coach’s expertise will guide the team to promotion in the next few seasons.
The West Brom-born manager has led Brentford to 9th, 10th and 9th-place finishes in the Championship across the last three seasons. However, the ex-Walsall boss could progress at a club like Villa who can offer better facilities, staff, aspirations and, essentially, better finances. Despite the looming FFP nightmare, Xia’s Villa could well be stable money-wise across seasons to come.
For now, it’s time to cut back the spending, promote young talent and recruit cheap. Dean Smith has proven to be a specialist in these fields and seems a solid choice for Aston Villa. Then again, a change in coach could disrupt the joyful spirit at B6 and that is the last thing the team needs when promotion is always the aim. It’s a crucial time for Birmingham’s biggest club. The wrong decision could cost them big time. But a coach like Smith could be precisely what they need.