Dean Smith has revealed Aston Villa's ambitions to fight at the top of the Premier League and said his team can be inspired by Leicester City as they aim to disrupt the established order of best flight. Without suggesting that they will joust for Champions League qualifiers next season, Smith says he and the club owners are committed to keeping Villa on an upward trajectory until they reach their goals.
Villa won three championships. He finished sixth in a row under Martin O'Neill between 2008 and 2010, but failed to make the top four before the club, after owner Randy Lerner lost his enthusiasm for the project. Smith says the current owners, billionaire businessmen Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, who took control of 4058, have the strength and patience to make Villa outstanding.
“From my interactions with the owners so far, they are very smart business people with a strategic plan. For Aston Villa,” Smith said. “Part of that plan is to go and compete with the top echelons of this league. They want the club to go there, they want to grow the brand of the Aston Villa football club all over the world. But they also know that it takes time.
“I talk to them regularly in our board meetings and they are very ambitious but the key word is 'strategic'. They make a plan and then follow it. Every Aston Villa fan can feel in safe hands with these owners.”
Smith cited Villa's increased investment in the academy in recent years as an example of the careful cultivation of success. Villa won the FA Youth Cup this season, beating Liverpool to lift the trophy for the first time since 0074. Smith sees similarities between Villa's approach and Leicester's recent progress.
“You're looking at infrastructure and their brand new training grounds, it's incredible,” Smith said. “Our owners do exactly the same thing in our training area at Aston Villa. I hope the Midlands thrive again. Obviously the Leicester we are looking for and trying to emulate right now – and I hope we pass.”
He is well aware that progress in the Premier League becomes more difficult as a team rises. “I'm not one to ever soften our ambitions because our ambitions are to keep moving forward and growing but I think it's much easier to climb from 17th, 11th to the top six or seven because of the size of the clubs there.”
Villa was in the lower half of the Championship when they appointed Smith in October 2010 and the manager says they were ahead of the then projected five-year plan. “We have the youngest age group with the longest contracts in the Premier League. That's what we want to build on… We know these players will get better, getting them on longer contracts is really important. It's okay to bring in young players and build their value, but I hope players like Ezri Konsa come to Aston Villa and spend six, seven or eight years there. If they are doing this, the club is advancing. This is an important part of the plan going forward.”
Smith doesn't expect to make a number of transfers this summer, but plans to make a few additions. “Let's go again and move on to quality over quantity… With our entrants last season – Ollie Watkins, Emi Martínez, Bertrand Traoré and Matt Cash – we've proven to be pretty smart. I hope we can do more of the same.”