Dean Smith has laid out Aston Villa’s ambition to challenge at the top of the Premier League, saying his team can take inspiration from Leicester City as they aim to disrupt the top flight’s established order. Without suggesting that they will joust for Champions League qualification as early as next season, Smith says he and the club’s owners are committed to keeping Villa on an upward trajectory until they achieve their goal.
Villa enjoyed three sixth-place finishes in a row under Martin O’Neill between 2008 and 2010 but could not break into the top four before the club’s then owner, Randy Lerner, lost enthusiasm for the project. Smith says the current owners – the billionaire businessmen Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, who took control in 2018 – have the power and patience to make Villa elite.
“From my interactions with the owners so far, they are very astute businessmen who have a strategic plan for Aston Villa,” said Smith. “Part of that plan is to go and compete with the upper echelons of this league. That’s where they want the club to go, they want to grow the brand of Aston Villa football club all across the world as well. But they are also aware that takes time.
“I speak to them regularly during our board calls and they are very ambitious but the key word is ‘strategic’. They build a plan and then they follow it through. Every Aston Villa fan can feel in safe hands with these owners.”
Smith cited Villa’s increased investment in their academy in recent years as an example of the careful cultivation of success. Villa won the FA Youth Cup this season, beating Liverpool to lift the trophy for the first time since 2002. Smith sees similarities between Villa’s approach and recent progress made by Leicester.
“You look at the infrastructure and their brand new training ground, which is incredible,” Smith said. “Our owners are doing exactly the same at our training ground at Aston Villa. Hopefully the Midlands is thriving again. Obviously Leicester are the ones we look up to at the moment and try to emulate – and hopefully pass.”
He is well aware that progress in the Premier League becomes harder the higher a team goes. “I am never one to temper ambitions because our ambitions are to keep progressing and growing but I think to climb from 17th to 11th is a lot easier than to climb from 11th to the top six or seven because of the size of the clubs who are there.”
Villa were in the bottom half of the Championship when they appointed Smith in October 2018 and the manager says they are ahead of the five-year plan envisaged back then. “We have now got the youngest average age group on the longest-term contracts in the Premier League. That is what we want to build on … We know these players will get better, getting them on longer-term contracts is really important. It is all right bringing in young players and building their value but I’m hopeful players will come to Aston Villa, like Ezri Konsa, and spend six, seven or eight years here. If they are doing that it means the club is progressing. That is an important part of the plan moving forward.”
Smith does not expect to make a raft of transfers this summer but is eyeing a few additions. “We feel again let’s go and get quality over quantity … We proved last season with the ones we got in – Ollie Watkins, Emi Martínez, Bertrand Traoré and Matt Cash – that we were quite astute. Hopefully we can do more of the same.”