Dean Smith - underwhelming or underrated?

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith gestures on the touchline during the Premier League match at Villa Pa

Former Aston Villa boss Dean SMith is the current favourite to replace Daniel Farke as Norwich City head coach. - Credit: PA

For all the razzmatazz surrounding Frank Lampard and mystery presented by Kjetil Knutsen, Dean Smith has quietly gone under the radar in Norwich City's search for a new head coach. 

After the Chelsea legend withdrew from the race to be Daniel Farke's successor, Smith's name has been propelled to the top of the bookmakers' odds and Sky Sports are reporting City have entered final negotiations to seal the deal.

That has been met with a somewhat mixed reaction by Canaries supporters.

Yet, Smith has managed more Premier League games than Lampard, played attractive, attacking football for the most part at Aston Villa and is seen by many as a progressive coach. 

In all his three jobs at Walsall, Brentford and Villa, you can make the case that Smith has progressed the football club. He isn't a flash name or an unknown quantity, but he is a pragmatic, solid and safe pair of hands. 

When Smith took the job at Aston Villa, they were languishing in midtable in the Championship. 

He set out a clear plan in terms of training and planned in two week blocks, players knew days off four days in advance. It was designed by Smith to eliminate excuses and focus minds. 

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Villa were 14th in the Championship when Smith walked through the door. The fans felt disconnected after Steve Bruce's reign ended in cabbage throwing disaster and they needed someone capable of turning their fortunes around. 

Smith wasn't the only contender. Thierry Henry was considered for the job. 

Four months into his reign, his position was being discussed at board room level after results dropped, which coincided with an injury to Jack Grealish, according to reports in the Birmingham Mail at the time. 

That was to become a regular theme of his time in charge at his boyhood club. Whenever there seemed to be mounting pressure, Smith appeared to be in his element. 

He took Villa to the Premier League, kept them there and played decent football in the process. 

So what's the problem?

Similarly to Farke, Villa recruited hard this summer. Despite losing Grealish, they spend significant amounts of cash on Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey, Danny Ings among others. 

Expectation remained high. Smith then lost both of his assistant coaches - John Terry and Richard O'Kelly - on the eve of the season after battling coronavirus himself.

A run of five defeats on the spin ultimately sealed his fate. For a man who wanted to be Villa manager all his life, there was bound to be a degree of upset surrounding the divorce. 

Smith is adored by Villa fans. To the extent where money is being raised for a banner in their stadium to celebrate his achievements. Ex-Villa boss John Gregory praised Smith for giving the club 'the kiss of life'. 

Aston Villa Manager Dean Smith and Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke before the Sky Bet Championship m

Smith has been linked with replacing Daniel Farke at Norwich City. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Many felt the trigger was pulled too early. Smith himself published a lengthy statement via the LMA which expressed his regret at that decision. 

For Stuart Webber, they may have read more like a cover letter. 

But the board saw enough. They didn't feel, given the recruitment drive, that Smith was capable of progressing the team at the pace they wanted. He wasn't recruited by the current ownership. But he calls many of them friends now. 

Smith has held talks with City over succeeding Farke at Carrow Road. 

With Frank Lampard out of the race, many have been quick to install him as the favourite. 

The fear is that Smith, if he does become City boss, hasn't had any time out of the game to recharge or evaluate his spell at Villa Park. 

Given the scale of the task at Carrow Road, the new man will need to have the energy and drive to hit the ground running. There could be a bizarre situation where Smith's first game in charge would be against the same opposition that sealed his fate last weekend. 

There is also an argument that Smith endured many of the same problems at Villa as Farke struggled to grasp at City. 

After the sale of his main creative outlet, Smith struggled to mould the replacements into a side capable of being upwardly mobile. He used Buendia in the wrong position. He struggled to get a tune out of Bailey. 

He was switching between tactical systems and Villa lost the defensive security they worked tirelessly to create the season prior. 

But zoom out and Smith would tick a lot of boxes. 

At Villa, he worked under a sporting director and had little say on recruitment. Initially, albeit in the Championship, he provided a bounce that helped push his side up the table. He fought in a relegation dogfight and kept his team in the division - even if HawkEye offered a helping hand.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith (left) speaks with Jack Grealish

Smith had to contend with the loss of Jack Grealish at Villa Park. - Credit: PA

He had a set-piece coach. He made arguments about expected goals and Villa's underperformance. He was loved by the squad. He improved a number of players. 

He may have won Champions Leagues or coached at the highest level. But Smith would be stability and that's arguably what Norwich need right now. 

Underwhelming or underrated? Maybe Smith is both. 

NCFC extra: David Freezer: An exasperating week for Canaries supporters