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Where next for Dean Smith? Norwich, Rangers, and other options considered

Where next for Dean Smith?
Where next for Dean Smith?

Three years and 28 days. That’s how long Aston Villa fans worshipped one of their own at the helm. Dean Smith - a boyhood supporter from a family of Villans - lifted the European Cup when he was 11-years-old, babysitting for substitute Pat Heard after their triumph in Rotterdam against Bayern Munich in 1982.

He lived out the dreams of every fan on the terraces at Villa Park, carrying the club back into the Premier League where it had resided for so long prior, before establishing them as a top flight outfit once again with season-by-season progress. But unfortunately there was to be no fairytale end to his tenure with AVFC as Smith was relieved of his duties in the wake of a fifth straight defeat against Southampton in last weekend’s opener.

Deano is now charting unfamiliar territory in his managerial career. Since landing the Walsall job as caretaker boss back in January 2011, he’s spent over a decade consistently working; subsequently claiming the Saddlers job on a permanent basis at the end of the season before eventually switching the Midlands for London where he took over at Brentford and then finally landing the position of a lifetime at Aston Villa in 2018.

Here we’ll take a look at what could be next for Dean Smith, with a number of vacant roles across three different leagues available, in addition to the only job that he stated could have enticed him away from his beloved Villa…

Norwich

It’s been widely reported that Dean Smith is one of three names to have been shortlisted by the Canaries’ hierarchy to replace Daniel Farke. Farke twice led the side into the Premier League during his almost four-and-a-half year stint at Carrow Road, but it appears as though the board’s acceptance of the club’s yo-yo status has run dry.

It’s clear to see why DS is currently the third favourite to step into the Norwich hotseat. He has all the right credentials to convert a struggling side into one that can bear a significant improvement on and off the field, namely by keeping them in the division by the end of this season.

Of current managers available who would be willing to work within Norwich’s means, is there a better option than Smith? He completely changed the perception of Aston Villa when he entered the door during their third successive season in the Championship. He brought some much-needed stability to a team who had cut their way through seven managers in the eight years prior to his arrival. 

There was always a level of pragmatism to Smith’s proceedings - that’s not to say that he didn’t have his own style and philosophy in place, but he understood that during different times in jobs come different expectations and he unreservedly tackled adversity in the only way he knew how - head on.

Which made Villa’s decision all the more confusing - here’s a man who had overcome hardship on a number of separate occasions during his time at the club - losing Jack Grealish to injury before then going on a club-record 10-game win streak to secure a play-off spot and issuing the great escape against all odds to name two - but wasn’t entrusted with that same patience this time around. The East Anglian club have established a history of restraint 

Smith possesses the metal and streetwise knowledge for steering a struggling side to safety in the top flight having been there before not long ago - something that odds-on favourite and fellow watchlist compatriot Frank Lampard does not carry. If Norwich want a gracious figure whose players will fight tooth and nail for someone they respect on the training field, in the dugout and outside of football, they’d be hard pressed to find a better option than Smith right now.

Rangers

This is a purely speculative suggestion right now as it relies on a particular set of permutations, but if Steven Gerrard does leave Rangers for Villa, then Smith heading to Ibrox in a direct switch makes all kinds of sense.

There isn't even an open manager market to pull from for the Scottish outfit, but there’s an increasing possibility that Gerrard will take the move south of the border. If that does happen, just like Celtic before them, Rangers could look for an ex-Premier League boss to take charge.

Stevie G has assembled a young, attack-minded squad during his time up north and Smith’s work at Brentford fits this remit better than most. It’s a different kind of proposal than the West Bromwich-born man is used to, but it could be the exact type of challenge that he would relish taking on.

There’s the obvious distance that he could benefit from by escaping the pain of being sacked by his boyhood club, not to mention an opportunity to test his European credentials - something he had been aiming towards in his last position. As things stand, a mid-season introduction wouldn’t faze either individual or club I wouldn’t have thought, with the Gers currently four points clear of their domestic rivals Celtic in the SPL.

Among the names being touted, his is the one that best fits the bill along the intersection of reality. On the face of it, it appears as though Frank Lampard is keen on a Premier League return for his next managerial chapter, while John Terry needs to set his sights at a lower level on the managerial ladder rather than jumping head-first into something that could tarnish his long-term goals.

Could Dean Smith be a future replacement for Gareth Southgate?
Could Dean Smith be a future replacement for Gareth Southgate?

England

Dean remains the next in-line to lead his nation when Gareth Southgate eventually steps down or is relieved of his duties as Three Lions boss, whenever that may be. 5/1 is around the shortest price he’s been at and that’s currently where the bookmakers have him priced up at. 

Despite suffering the sack, Dean’s stock remains high. The circumstances of his exit are merely a blemish on an otherwise fantastic period, and successful managerial career to date. The nature of his time in management has been one of continuous improvement and that upward rise doesn’t get any further realised than undertaking duties as head coach of your national team.

Given the structure of the English FA over most recent years, there’s been a clear shift towards a different method for success and no matter what micro or macro criticisms you may have, it’s worked. England are challenging once again for major honours, boasting a semi-final and final on their CV under existing boss Gareth Southgate’s five-year leadership.

Whether you agree with their implementation or not, a model where favouritism should not exist, that selection is based on form and an emphasis on nurturing the youthful talent at their disposal are the right steps to regaining success on the international stage. These are all policies that Smith has vast experience with, to add to the hard yards he’s put in prior to now, rising up through the ranks of English football, as well as him being born and bred too.

Next England Manager Odds

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For those keen observers, Smith did actually name drop the job in his original Aston Villa press release when taking the job. The England position was one that he earmarked as the only possibility of temptation for him leaving the Claret and Blues as managing his country was seen as the highest possible honour.

It goes without saying that someone like Smith would jump at the chance of coaching England. But it’s also worth noting that to do so during a period where he’s afforded such an array of talent, with a wealth of possible formations and methods to experiment with is an exciting thought. He’d be given the time to find his feet and build towards something tangible too, which could well make Dean Smith a prime candidate to become Southgate’s successor.

Next England Manager Odds

The Championship

Should circumstance, timing or whatever else get in the way of Smith remaining in the Premier League or at the top level in his next job, the Championship offers a couple of different prospects.

Smith is no stranger to the division, having coached Brentford there for three seasons before helping Villa climb up out of it at the first time of asking. Right now there are two different vacancies, both of which present their own challenges and rewards.

Cardiff sacked Mick McCarthy off the back of an eighth straight defeat a number of weeks ago. Since then, their search has grown no nearer to a close, with a host of names linked to the Welsh-based job.

What a coup it would be if the Bluebirds could tempt Smith into a Championship return. It’s expected that there will be a real shift in the type of person Cardiff want at the helm, with McCarthy representing what many feel is a “dying” breed of manager.

The ex-Villa boss has a great understanding of the league and took over his own team in a similar position to that of which they currently find themselves in. If a play-off promotion story seemed impossible then, who’s to say Smith can’t strike gold twice, with his last appointment taking place in the October of that year. 

Next Cardiff Manager Odds

On the other hand, Barnsley sit in 23rd, four points adrift of Cardiff who are three places higher at the moment. The Tykes have endured a difficult transition from life under Valerien Ismael, who defied odds of his own last season when he steered his group of overachievers into the play-offs.

Their status is certainly one that could see a return to his underdog roots, that would see him operate within his means again. It’s a challenge that only further tests his strength and resilience as a manager and his mild-mannered approach could see him work wonders with what’s available to him.

Rather than the glitz and the glamour of another high-profile job, Barnsley is somewhere he could go relatively unnoticed and work his way into the hearts and minds of a different set of supporters.

Next Barnsley Manager Odds

Sabbatical?

It’s not uncharacteristic for managers to take an extended leave from the game, particularly if the fallout from their previous job carries some extra weight. Smith has never before been sacked, or taken time out from the game since his managerial career began, so maybe now poses the ideal time.

As mentioned previously, Deano and his entire family are Villa supporters and so the magnitude of his departure is unlikely to affect anybody more than it does themselves.

What this offers is a chance to clear his head, recharge his batteries and quite frankly weigh up his options at a more ideal time. Entering a job midway through a season can be a tough ask, and so negotiating over the summer with a suitable club that then allows him to bed himself in slowly, while getting to grips with a change of scenery and new personnel over the course of the summer and a pre season is always going to be more favourable.

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