Dean Smith, who was appointed in October 2018, helped earn Aston Villa promotion back to the Premier League in his first season in charge at the club; sacking comes after a run of five straight defeats, the last of which came at Southampton on Friday
Monday 8 November 2021 07:59, UK
Aston Villa were ruthless in the summer transfer window in attempting to replace Jack Grealish, spending nearly £100m on Emi Buendia, Danny Ings and Leon Bailey. They have shown a similar ruthless edge in sacking Dean Smith after five straight defeats.
Under owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris and chief executive Christian Purslow, it is clear backwards steps will not be tolerated.
On top of the five defeats, Villa's performances were concerning. In those 450 minutes, they played well for an accumulative hour, but 40 points gained from their last 36 games will be the real reason for Smith's sacking.
There are plenty of mitigating factors, but Smith cannot escape blame for all.
Of course, losing Grealish is top of the list. Everything went through Villa's captain in the last two years; beyond the individual brilliance, Grealish got Villa up the pitch and controlled the tempo of the game. They have not had a fulcrum since.
Smith has also struggled for a settled XI this season. From day one he insisted Ings could play alongside Ollie Watkins - "I have no concerns," he's said on numerous occasions - experimenting with a back five to fit him in. He had initial success with wins against Manchester United and Everton, but by the time he reverted to a back four, confidence was rock bottom.
There are doubts as to how much Smith wanted Ings, signed completely out of the blue just 24 hours before the Grealish sale, with Purslow insisting the £100m spent was thoroughly thought out.
"It was never our intention to replace Jack with one footballer," Purslow said in August. "Our strategy was to analyse and break down Jack's key attributes - his creativity, his assists and goals - and find those qualities and others in three forward players.
"We believe we have achieved this key objective. And in doing so have also reduced an overdependence on one brilliant footballer."
Going by performances on the pitch, fans would beg to differ.
It is nothing against Ings, a natural goalscorer whose effort off the ball should not be underestimated, but his arrival has disrupted the system and Watkins, a fan favourite and scorer of 14 goals in his debut Premier League season, and given rise to a Ronaldo-like debate: are Villa better off without him?
There is more. Buendia has struggled to recreate the form that warranted a £38m price tag, played in a more central position despite huge success at Norwich from the right wing.
Buendia, Ings and Bailey will likely gel, but Smith will not be around to see the results.
A defence that kept 15 clean sheets in 2020/21 looks jaded - Smith decided the drastic action needed was to drop captain Tyrone Mings, not at his best but not the biggest culprit - confusing even Mings' biggest critics.
Matt Targett, Villa's player of the season last year, has been battered and bruised, pinned back by opposing wingers and missing his partner in crime in Grealish in the opposition half.
This has all contributed to a confused style with no noticeable traits, and their statistics are lower mid-table. If you are struggling for flow in the final third, at least tighten up at the back, but Villa have looked leaky.
But Villa fan Smith can count himself unlucky on many counts. He took over Villa in the bottom half of the Championship, went on a 10-game winning streak and came up through the play-offs.
They looked doomed in the Premier League before the pandemic, but he learned from his mistakes and kept Villa up against the odds, leading them to 11th last season.
Like many clubs' support, there is a chasm between social media reaction and match-going atmosphere. Those at St Mary's on Friday night started the evening singing Smith's name, but ended it wondering what was next in a season that had promised progress, despite the Grealish sale.
Many will believe the club had to act soon before a relegation battle became a real prospect. Others feel he has built more than enough credit in the bank for more time.
They will be hoping a ready-made replacement is waiting in the wings: it is difficult to see who, at this stage, but a week is a long time in this Premier League season as the managerial merry-go-round continues.
November 20: Brighton (H)
November 27: Crystal Palace (A)
December 1: Man City (H)
December 5: Leicester (H) - live on Sky Sports Premier League
December 11: Liverpool (A)
December 14: Norwich (A)