White smoke over Villa Park

Villa appoint Dean Smith as Head Coach, as Dave Woodhall comments.

The white smoke emerged over Aston some time in Wednesday evening to indicate that the thirtieth managerial appointment, or if you prefer, the first Head Coach appointment, had taken place and Dean Smith is to be the Chosen One.

It might sound a bit of a comedown after some of the big names linked with the job. Brendan Rodgers was a logical choice – if you like, ones from the head, whereas Thierry Henry was the unknown, exciting quantity, the ‘from the heart’ option. Deano, as he’s almost inevitably going to be known from now on, is a bit of both. Head, because he’s proved himself to be a progressive and forward-thinking boss of a club that continue to overachieve. Heart because he’s undoubtedly one of our own.

He’s a Villa supporter, from a claret and blue family, and I don’t doubt that from the moment he began his managerial career as youth team coach at Leyton Orient he’s dreamed of this moment. There won’t be the problem that has hampered other Villa managers, of not realising until he gets here just how big the Viila are and how much potential is waiting to be tapped. It’s sometimes said of a manager that he ‘gets’ the club. Dean Smith has never had to get the Villa. It’s had him in its grasp from birth.

But of course none of this would be of any use unless Dean had proved himself as a manager. He saved Walsall from almost-certain relegation and left them in a comfortable mid-table position. He took over a Brentford side who were having their best run in almost a century and kept up their progress – and keeping an over-achieving side going is a task that a succession of managers have failed at Nottingham Forest after Brian Clough and at Watford post-Sir Graham, to name the two most obvious examples. In both jobs, Smith was further hampered by having to rebuild his playing squad at least once a season.

And so on to Villa Park. Such a move isn’t without its gambles, not least why it is that the powers that be seemed determined to shoehorn John Terry into the set-up regardless of who might be in charge. I hope that Terry’s here because the new boss wants him, rather than because he’s been foisted on the Head Coach. Yesterday’s appointment of Jesus Garcia Pitarch as Sporting Director also shows that Villa are, finally, starting to grasp the modern aspects of football.

There will doubtless be those who say that Dean is untried at this level, and those with long memories will point to Graham Turner as an example of Villa appointing a manager from the lower leagues only for him to be an unmitigated failure. This time, though, the situation is different. Turner had to walk from Shrewsbury Town into a dressing room full of internationals and European Champions – the squad Smith inherits is not much different in ability to the one he leaves behind.

And I doubt there’s a player in England, at any level, who wouldn’t have respect for John Terry, who also showed last season that while Chelsea might be his club every bit as much as Villa are Smith’s, he understands what we are and what we can be.

The new managerial team are going to have to hit the ground running, to get results from the off while at the same time putting into place a long-term strategy that will enable the Villa not only to get promoted but to then perform in the Premier League as though we’ve never been away. It’ll be an interesting time and if nothing else, it’s light years away from the assortment of mediocre journeyman who’ve sat in the dug out and dominated the Villa’s thinking for far too long. The football will be more entertaining and we might find that Scott Hogan has strengths to be played to at long last.

What happens in the future is something we can only wait and see. For now, I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that the manager of Aston Villa is someone I used to give a lift home from the reserves.