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No place for sentiment

No place for sentiment

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Dean Smith had the dream job – manager of his childhood club, Aston Villa. His sacking after a poor run of form shows just how brutal the industry is.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story, every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, what the sacking of Dean Smith tells us about sentiment in sport.

***

For Dean Smith, it was the dream job.

“Yeah it means quite a lot, obviously, due to my allegiances as a child and my father working here for 25 years as a steward. But, people sometimes forget I’ve been involved in professional football for 30 years…”

Dean Smith, ITV News

When Dean Smith was appointed Aston Villa manager three years ago, things couldn’t have been better.

As a boy, he’d stood on the terraces, watching some of the club’s most historic moments in the old Division One.

Then, in 2019 he led his childhood club to promotion from the Championship back to the Premier League. 

Aston Villa wasn’t just a club.  It was his club.

It was almost a Hollywood storyline – the sort that is only rarely played out in real-life.

Football is not a fantasy, however.  

After the triumph of getting his club back to the big time, the dismal reality of being fired. 

We’ve got some breaking news for you from the Premier League – there has been another sacking in the last few minutes. It’s not what you’re thinking… Dean Smith has gone from Aston Villa. It’s really tough isn’t it?

Sky Sports Football

After five successive defeats in the league, Dean Smith was sacked.

Villa’s latest loss – a 1-0 defeat to Southampton – was the final straw.  The club, lingering in 16th place – just above the relegation zone – was in trouble and Smith paid the price.

Revealingly, the reaction was sympathetic – something one witnesses rarely in arguably the world’s most competitive – and ruthless – league.

And most interesting was the players’ reaction to the sacking, with some acknowledging their performance partly explained it.   

Emi Buendia, a recent signing, sent a message to Smith, saying:  “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play for this club, Dean. It was a short period working together but I know you are a great manager and a really good person.” 

Tyrone Mings, who Smith transformed from an average left-back into an England centre-back, said: “The Gaffer and I have enjoyed some great times together and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.”

And most revealingly of all, Jack Grealish, the former Villa star now at Manchester City, said ‘No-one will ever compare’ to Smith.  He was the ‘real greatest of all time’ – which is quite something when you consider he is now being managed by arguably Europe’s most successful coach,  Pep Guardiola. 

Looking back, it’s clear the storm clouds over Villa started to gather before the season started with the decision to sell Jack Grealish,  something that had little to do with Smith.

Grealish – easily the club’s most high profile player – was sold for £100 million in the summer.  

He was Villa’s talisman, and while the club spent big to bolster their squad, things didn’t click. 

They bought Emi Buendia from Norwich for around £35million in the summer but he has just one goal and a single assist to his name in 10 games. 

They signed Danny Ings for £30million from Southampton the day after Grealish left.  He’s played well but the club would have been hoping for more than his return of three goals and two assists in nine matches.  And his partnership with striker Ollie Watkins has yet to prosper.

Unhelpfully, there have been injuries to both Buendia and Ings. 

So what now for Villa?

Aston Villa are obviously looking and saying ‘We can get someone better than Dean Smith.’ I don’t think he’s done a terrible job, did really well last season, it’s only the start of the season, we’re not too long into it, they’ve had a poor run of form. But in the past, if you had a run of four or five games that hadn’t gone well, you’d get longer, you’d get maybe double that. I think now in the Premier League you’re not, because people are looking, thinking ‘Can we get better than that manager? Yes we can.’ and Aston Villa will believe that. 

Jamie Carragher, Sky Sports

Villa have huge potential.  They’ve money to invest, have global appeal and more than 20,000 fans on their season-ticket waiting list. 

Their owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, are both ambitious billionaires, who’ve put £330million into the club since they took ownership in 2018. 

Edens is also co-owner of the NBA side the Milwaukee Bucks – who won their first NBA Championship since 1974 this year, having been a fairly unfancied side since the 1980s. 

It makes you wonder if Edens sees some similarities between his Villa and Bucks sports teams: firing underperforming managers can lead to greater success. 

So what have learnt from the sacking of Smith?  Especially when one considers he did a decent job.  He managed Villa 87 times in the Premier League, which is an achievement that many managers can’t match.  But “decent” isn’t good enough.

It reminds us brutally that there is no place for sentiment in football. None whatsoever.

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Studio Klong.