Dean Smith says Aston Villa are back where they belong - but how will they fare in Premier League?

Jack Grealish led Aston Villa back into the big time

Normality resumed. Aston Villa are in the Premier League.

This isn't your average Championship play-off-winning football club.

Here, we have one that has spent 105 seasons in England's top division - only Everton have spent longer there (116).

They've won 21 major trophies in their 145-year history, including a European Cup.

Many would agree with head coach Dean Smith that they are back where they belong.

He said: "It feels right that Villa are in the Premier League. It is a Premier League club. History tells you that. We've done some hard years."

The 40,000 Villans inside Wembley Stadium knew the 90 minutes with Derby was a huge moment in the club's history in terms of their trajectory.

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Premier League regulars like Southampton, Portsmouth, Coventry and even Manchester City all missed opportunities to bounce back within two years following relegation. All four of those clubs ended up, at some point, in the English third tier. Villa fitted the same kind of profile. A fallen giant.

This is a Villa side built on the loan signings of Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham and Anwar El Ghazi and the supreme talents of Jack Grealish and John McGinn. There could have been a scenario that Villa would have started next season without all of those five.

With such a potential rebuilding job on the table and considering profitability and sustainability rules sanctioned by the EFL, promotion would have been a tall order.

No need to worry now though. Old Trafford, The Emirates, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are on the menu.

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Highlights from the Sky Bet Championship play-off final between Aston Villa and Derby at Wembley

'He's one of our own'

Aston Villa are going up with one of their own steering the ship.

Smith was in the stands in Rotterdam for Villa's 1982 European Cup final win against Bayern Munich. And, 37 years on from witnessing one of the club's greatest nights, he was in the dugout at the heart of Villa's perfect promotion push.

From fan, to the man.

In seven months he's transformed an ageing team heading in the wrong direction. This was a Villa team that left Wembley last season with plenty of regrets as their pragmatic approach restricted their ability to put Fulham under significant pressure in their 1-0 play-off final defeat.

Smith has changed that mindset. It's not quite 'attack, attack, attack' but it's an 'attack with purpose' philosophy.

His influence, however, wasn't instant. It's easy to forget that Villa were only 13th in the Championship at kick-off when they beat Derby 4-0 at Villa Park on March 2. That win was the first of 10 in a row that catapulted Villa into the promotion picture.

Smith has given freedom and licence to many of his squad while putting the focus on the skill of their excellent midfield dynamic of Grealish and McGinn. Those two have what it takes to grace the Premier League - as does Smith.

After sparkling spells with Walsall and Brentford, his possession with a purpose style of play has got Villa back in the big time.

But 'big time' isn't a word associated with the man in charge. He's one that pushes personal praise to the side and puts others to the forefront of his thoughts at every opportunity.

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Dean Smith gave full credit to his Aston Villa players as they sealed promotion back to the Premier League with their 2-1 win at Wembley

At full time at Wembley, within moments of the whistle blowing, he was in the Derby half helping to console the opposition. It says a lot for the type of man he is. He even heaped praise on former boss Steve Bruce in his press conference.

"It was two of Steve's signings who scored the goals for us," Smith said, referring to El Ghazi and McGinn.

Also, Smith revealed the pride he gained from looking up to see his family - his wife and two kids - crying in the Royal Box.

However, one family member that wasn't at Wembley was his father, who is currently suffering with dementia and tragically doesn't even know his son is the Aston Villa manager.

Somehow holding back tears of his own, Smith said: "I went to see him on Friday - he opened his eyes for two minutes and during those two minutes I said to him 'next time I'll see you I'll be a Premier League manager'.

"I got a smile, if not anything's a terrible illness."

You've done him proud, Dean.

Room to improve?

Of course, as with any newly promoted club, recruitment will be high on the agenda for Smith and the money men this summer. The £170m boost to their coffers will help make Villa an attractive proposition for players when you consider the size of the club.

Discussions on the future of their loan stars will take up much of that chat.

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Job Done, Back to the big league 🤪

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Smith identified the importance of defensive duo Axel Tuanzebe - on loan from Manchester United - and Mings - on loan from Bournemouth. "I said to my coaching team that if the two of them played well at Wembley, we'd win the game," Smith said.

He was bang on. They were both superb.

Smith revealed that Villa do have a "matching offer" clause in the Mings loan contract which puts the club in pole position to sign a player that had the air of Virgil van Dijk about him during the final. A step ahead of every Derby attacker, it wasn't a coincidence that Villa lost control with him off the pitch.

Villa also have an option to sign on-loan Lille man El Ghazi but the future of top goalscorer Abraham remains unclear. He is due to return to Chelsea this summer and may find first-team opportunities available to him there while the Blues remain under a transfer embargo.

What next for the boy wonder?

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Aston Villa captain and boyhood fan Jack Grealish found it hard to explain his emotions after they secured promotion back to the Premier League

When the teams were announced at Wembley, Grealish's name was cheered the loudest by the Villa faithful - by a mile too.

When he trudged off the field in tears last season after the Fulham defeat, few would have begrudged him snapping up an offer of Premier League football. But loyalty rings true in the Grealish household. The local boy delivered on his promise to get the club back to the top level.

Strangely, he had a greater influence on last year's final than against Derby. His rhythm was never quite there with the ball and he looked indecisive in the final third - something that has been the backbone of his spectacular end to the Sky Bet Championship campaign. It was the influence of his partner in crime McGinn that laid the foundations for Villa to dictate the game for large periods. His tenacity, quality and enthusiasm should see him flourish next season at the top level.

Will Grealish be lining up alongside him for the opening Premier League game in August? The boy has undoubtedly done good - but is it time for him to spread his wings?

Not according to Smith.

He said: "I've got a special connection with the lad. He's been through a lot. There's a perception of him because of a photo of him lying in a road at 17 - but he's matured. I had no qualms in giving him the captaincy. He's shown great responsibility. Even if we didn't go up today it would have been hard for clubs to prise him away."

Villa will be playing at the level talents like Grealish, McGinn and Smith deserve to be showcased on.

Normality resumed. They are in the Premier League.

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