Did Grealish’s exit cost Smith the Villa job?

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November 11, 2021
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    Dean Smith Jack GrealishDean Smith leaves Villa 16th in the Premier League

    Dean Smith was an Aston Villa supporter who lived the dream by becoming manager, but after just over three years, promotion back to the Premier League and a cup final, he was relieved of his duties at the weekend.

    Five straight defeats, including against Southampton at St Mary's on Friday, caused the board to act and though supporters loved him, some feel the timing was right.

    But after the £100m sale of Jack Grealish, their homegrown captain and the man they relied upon most, to Manchester City, Smith's task of reinventing Villa while pushing for the top half was always likely to be difficult.

    Did Aston Villa reinvest the Grealish money wisely?

    Villa received a lot of plaudits for their open handling of the Grealish affair over the summer, with a video statement from chief executive Christian Purslow outlining their contingency plans.

    There were three swift and impressive signings: attacking midfielder Emiliano Buendia for £33m from Norwich City, £25m winger Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen and striker Danny Ings from Southampton, also for £25m.

    Although Buendia fitted the bill as a playmaking replacement, a system change pointed to a different emphasis, namely attempting to pair Ings in attack with last season's top scorer Ollie Watkins. Injuries denied Smith the opportunity to play the trio in the same team.

    Ings scored twice in his first two league games for the club but has only added one more in seven appearances since. Buendia's only goal secured a point against Brentford in August, and Bailey scored against Everton in an emphatic home win, but consistency has been hard to find.

    By the same point last season, Grealish had scored four goals, including two in the 7-2 win over Liverpool.

    Former Blackburn Rovers striker Chris Sutton, who had a brief spell at Villa Park in 2006-07, told BBC Radio 5 Live he felt conditions made Smith's sacking a harsh decision.

    "They had a good window," he said. "Buendia hasn't quite fired yet, Bailey and Ings have had injuries. The start hasn't been great, but neither has it been an absolute catastrophe."

    Leon BaileyVilla's new signings Leon Bailey and Danny Ings have struggled for fitness.

    How have Aston Villa missed Grealish on the pitch?

    One of the reasons behind Smith's departure was a longer-term malaise – his side lost 18 Premier League games in 2021, a run stretching back to the second half of last season when Grealish was still at the club.

    But the England international was out with a shin injury in March and April and only actually played in five of those losses.

    A look at the data shows just how much the 26-year-old's creativity has been missed – and how Villa have struggled to replace his attacking output.

    Last season, Smith's side created 2.1 big chances per game in the Premier League, and that has fallen to 1.2 this term.

    Their chance conversion rate has shrunk from 43% to 38.5%, and it appears getting the ball into the box has become a real problem, with shots from inside the area down from an average of 9.1 per game to 6.9, despite two main strikers being on the pitch together. With that said, Watkins has found himself out wide at times.

    Buendia is the most natural replacement for Grealish, but is failing to match the former captain's creative output from 2020-21.

    While Grealish was averaging 2.1 shots per game, the Argentine has managed just 1.3. Grealish completed 2.7 of 4.5 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes, Buendia has so far completed 1.7 of 2.6.

    In terms of chances, including assists, Grealish created 3.3 per game, 0.8 more than Buendia.

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    Was Smith given time to adjust?

    Dan Morgan from the Heart of the Holte podcast says Smith's reign has been the highlight of his time following the club, but admitted the pressure was building.

    "Within the last six months, our identity has been taken away from us," he said.

    "It shouldn't have come as a surprise that when Manchester City came calling, Jack would leave. Seeing Dean go has broken my heart but since January he has won just three games without Jack.

    "Any manager who loses five games in a row is always going to be under pressure."

    Former Villa defender Micah Richards was surprised Smith, having guided the club up from the Championship to the Premier League and then kept them there, was not given more time.

    "From where he started to where he took them, surely you want that backing from the owners," said Richards. "I think it was too early; when investment comes, expectancy always follows.

    "We know how passionate the Villa fans are. Throw money into that equation and it is always going to be difficult."

    Who is in the frame to replace Smith?

    Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is on the shortlist of candidates to take over, while ex-Roma manager Paulo Fonseca, who recently spoke to Newcastle, has been linked with the post too.

    Richards believes only the very best will represent an upgrade on Smith.

    "You might as well go out and get a top, top manager, because otherwise, whichever manager comes in is not going to feel good enough and you might as well stick with Smith," he said.

    "He knows the club inside out and he's not had a full chance to do what he set out to at the start of the season."

    Sutton believes Gerrard would take the job were he offered it.

    "Eventually, Steven Gerrard will come back down south," he said. "There is talk he'll end up at Liverpool, but he needs to learn his trade at a club like Aston Villa, who are not going to challenge at the very top."

    Losing their best player does not fully explain Villa's recent struggles. Only Norwich and Newcastle have conceded more than them, with England defender Tyrone Mings recently dropped for the defeat to West Ham after a poor showing at Arsenal.

    But finding a solution to the Grealish issue was a challenge for Smith, and that will be no different for whoever his replacement turns out to be.

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    721 commentsShowLatestOldestHighest RatedMost Replied

    • H

      Comment posted by Highly rated poster, at 07:24 10 Nov

      Sell your best asset and then expect better next season – it was a shocking decision and yet again the Manager is the weakest link as those above eg Sporting Director, Director of Recruitment, CEO (if involved in the football) & Board Directors retain their positions.

      This one is particularly galling as Dean Smith is one of the nicest and most genuine people in football who had achieved for Villa22926

      • W

        Reply posted by WSV, at 07:38 10 Nov

        "Sell your best asset and then expect better next season – it was a shocking decision and yet again the Manager is the weakest link as those above eg Sporting Director, Director of Recruitment, CEO (if involved in the football) & Board Directors retain their positions.This one is particularly galling as Dean Smith is one of the nicest and most genuine people in football who had achieved for Villa"WSV replied: Grealish had a release clause in his contract, Man City triggered it, and Grealish wanted to go. Nothing Smith or Villa could do there.1657

      More replies (31)

    • N

      Comment posted by NeilT, at 07:29 10 Nov

      Is there a reason Chris Sutton has been asked for his opinion?19020

      • G

        Reply posted by Geoffreys mums stick of rhubarb, at 08:02 10 Nov

        "Is there a reason Chris Sutton has been asked for his opinion?"Geoffreys mums stick of rhubarb replied: Ummm… Sutton used to be a professional footballer and is now a football pundit working for the BBC? Plus it is the international break so need something to talk about until the games come around.5180

      More replies (27)

    • B

      Comment posted by Big Phill, at 07:38 10 Nov

      No, we already managed to get 3 wins this season without Jack.
      The problems have been defensive and became apparent in the 80th minute against Wolves.
      There did appear to be signs of defensive improvement in the last game, despite the result.
      Thought he’d earned the right to have a couple more games to be honest.
      Thanks Deano893

      • N

        Reply posted by Neil_M, at 07:53 10 Nov

        "No, we already managed to get 3 wins this season without Jack.The problems have been defensive and became apparent in the 80th minute against Wolves.There did appear to be signs of defensive improvement in the last game, despite the result.Thought he’d earned the right to have a couple more games to be honest.Thanks Deano"Neil_M replied: Getting absolutely schooled by Southampton in the first half didn’t help Deano’s cause. We should have been two or three nil down and down to 10 men.351

      More replies (4)

    • F

      Comment posted by Finkelstein, at 07:57 10 Nov

      It would be a bad move for Gerrard. Villa is a very different proposition to Rangers who are at best a mid table Championship side. He will end up like Lampard if he makes such a move. He should stay put and wait until the summer so he can get the benefit of a pre season with a PL team. There is no rush so he should take his time. If he is any good his time will come.9113

      • A

        Reply posted by Anon, at 08:03 10 Nov

        "It would be a bad move for Gerrard. Villa is a very different proposition to Rangers who are at best a mid table Championship side. He will end up like Lampard if he makes such a move. He should stay put and wait until the summer so he can get the benefit of a pre season with a PL team. There is no rush so he should take his time. If he is any good his time will come."Anon replied: I’m of a mixed view on Gerrard, on the one hand winning SPL isn’t the best preparation for a bigger club but doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be capable, a club like villa could be a good move, could be a bad move. I thought spudz would go for him at Tottenham, pre Conte616

      More replies (26)

    • M

      Comment posted by Me, at 07:24 10 Nov

      Should of stuck with him, it will be all change again and not necessarily for the better.7112

      • R

        Reply posted by Rubylove199, at 08:04 10 Nov

        "Should of stuck with him, it will be all change again and not necessarily for the better."Rubylove199 replied: Should have.14822

      More replies (35)

    • P

      Comment posted by Pete Barrett, at 07:50 10 Nov

      Any team would miss Grealish and would take time to adjust. Unreasonable expectations from the owners, I’m afraid.597

      • S

        Reply posted by seymour, at 07:53 10 Nov

        "Any team would miss Grealish and would take time to adjust. Unreasonable expectations from the owners, I’m afraid."seymour replied: It’s the fans unfortunately. You don’t hear Southampton, Norwich or Birmingham fans trying to convince everyone that they’re big3533

      More replies (17)

    • G

      Comment posted by Gunner-Idiot, at 09:19 10 Nov

      “Did Grealish exit cost dean smith his Job” = stupidest headline I’ve read so far this year5814

      • T

        Reply posted by The Spin Doctor, at 12:10 10 Nov

        "”Did Grealish exit cost dean smith his Job” = stupidest headline I’ve read so far this year"The Spin Doctor replied: Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, who knows?62

      More replies (1)

    • S

      Comment posted by seymour, at 08:12 10 Nov

      Villa had a player who was bigger than the club. Look what happened when he left.
      If they try to sign a manager who is bigger than the club it will become “Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa”

      At least Dean Smith was the right ‘level’5512

      • N

        Reply posted by Nmaan, at 09:39 10 Nov

        "Villa had a player who was bigger than the club. Look what happened when he left.If they try to sign a manager who is bigger than the club it will become “Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa”At least Dean Smith was the right ‘level’"Nmaan replied: Every club is generally referred to as the manager’s club by both commentators and pundits. You’d constantly hear Farke’s Norwich, Nuno’s Tottenham, Klopp’s Liverpool, Pep’s Manchester City and so on. It’s just how things are I don’t think it’s to do being bigger than the club it’s just how it’s always been done.2020

      More replies (6)

    • W

      Comment posted by Wembley68, at 09:27 10 Nov

      Funny how big mouth Richards has got something to say about everything. He played 2 matches in 3 seasons at Villa,both in the championship.

      41 games[10 with Fiorentina] in 7 years shows how committed he was,as usual with him all mouth and no sense.5716

      • K

        Reply posted by Kwisatz Haderach, at 09:31 10 Nov

        "Funny how big mouth Richards has got something to say about everything. He played 2 matches in 3 seasons at Villa,both in the championship.41 games[10 with Fiorentina] in 7 years shows how committed he was,as usual with him all mouth and no sense."Kwisatz Haderach replied: I’ve tried, honestly I have…but I don’t get it with Richards. His punditry is average at best…then again, most of them are rubbish. Its money for old rope, the punditry game…its become an industry, its oversaturated and you rarely get any insight or originality6411

      More replies (19)

    • A

      Comment posted by Andrew, at 07:46 10 Nov

      Their dip in form seems to have coincided with JT leaving. Maybe he was an excellent defensive coach and leader.5416

      • J

        Reply posted by jejwillett, at 07:55 10 Nov

        "Their dip in form seems to have coincided with JT leaving. Maybe he was an excellent defensive coach and leader."jejwillett replied: A Lampard/JT dream team maybe?730

      More replies (9)

    • M

      Comment posted by muddy wolf, at 09:10 10 Nov

      It could have been worse. Grealish might have done a Harry Kane and stayed.382

      • T

        Reply posted by The Spin Doctor, at 12:11 10 Nov

        "It could have been worse. Grealish might have done a Harry Kane and stayed."The Spin Doctor replied: Harry was forced to stay and now he is getting his revenge.172

      More replies (1)

    • K

      Comment posted by Kwisatz Haderach, at 09:22 10 Nov

      This article represents everything that’s wrong with modern sports journalism but, in fairness, its a reflection of societal discourse in general. Remove the complexity, nuance and replace with the easiest and most expedient explanation. I think its fair to say that losing Grealish was a blow…but many other factors have played into Villa’s poor start334

      • T

        Reply posted by TJVillan, at 10:20 10 Nov

        "This article represents everything that’s wrong with modern sports journalism but, in fairness, its a reflection of societal discourse in general. Remove the complexity, nuance and replace with the easiest and most expedient explanation. I think its fair to say that losing Grealish was a blow…but many other factors have played into Villa’s poor start"TJVillan replied: Nobody is denying that losing Grealish is a factor. But it’s not the biggest. So much has happened.

        Pre-season most games cancelled so nobody fully fit/prepared. Worst injury crisis in the league. Players missing games due to internationals. COVID outbreak. 2 coaches left just before the season. Defence has fallen apart. Centre mids dominated every game. Disastrous formation change.123

      More replies (1)

    • T

      Comment posted by Time to love the UK, at 07:48 10 Nov

      Grealish regularly missed a third of the season due to injury & quality was brought in with the Grealish money.

      Grealish also had a release clause which meant only he could turn the approach down but can you blame him for leaving now to prove himself at the highest level (he would only have left for a title-challenging side, sorry Spurs, United, etc fans).

      Main issue is defence, not attack.261

      • K

        Reply posted by Keeping it real 2021, at 15:02 10 Nov

        "Grealish regularly missed a third of the season due to injury & quality was brought in with the Grealish money.Grealish also had a release clause which meant only he could turn the approach down but can you blame him for leaving now to prove himself at the highest level (he would only have left for a title-challenging side, sorry Spurs, United, etc fans).Main issue is defence, not attack."Keeping it real 2021 replied: He was falling over himself to get to united the previous year.
        Don’t kid yourself. He would’ve gone to arsenal if they had the money.
        Now he’s gone to city and they no longer look the same.
        Dont know who decided he’s a winger rather than a midfielder but he’s pants at it.
        I’d be narked if i was sterling.52

      More replies (2)

    • O

      Comment posted by Omniscient, at 08:37 10 Nov

      I stopped reading this junk article when I saw the names Chris Sutton and Micah Richards. Two of the worst pundits ever I may as well ask the dog his opinion. Good luck Deano but it was time for a change.274

      • M

        Reply posted by muddy wolf, at 09:12 10 Nov

        "I stopped reading this junk article when I saw the names Chris Sutton and Micah Richards. Two of the worst pundits ever I may as well ask the dog his opinion. Good luck Deano but it was time for a change."muddy wolf replied: Just imagine. Two people who used to play at the highest level know less about football than you.157

      More replies (4)

    • L

      Comment posted by LilNige, at 08:27 10 Nov

      Nope it didn’t. 100 Million was good business and they re-invested well just been unlucky with injuries.231

      • M

        Reply posted by MattySW, at 08:35 10 Nov

        "Nope it didn’t. 100 Million was good business and they re-invested well just been unlucky with injuries."MattySW replied: Disagree, they invested poorly and that’s why they’re in this position. Ings and McGinn his only decent signings.619

      More replies (9)

    • G

      Comment posted by GP, at 09:18 10 Nov

      Love what DS did for the club but anyone following Villa closely enough understands the decision. It’s not just this season, it’s his previous efforts at getting us out of a nosedive. We survived 2 years ago by luck rather than his judgment, and that was with Grealish in the team. Last season also faded disappointingly. We need someone with experience to instill confidence,not sure that’s Gerrard.202

      • Y

        Reply posted by yasuaki, at 10:10 10 Nov

        "Love what DS did for the club but anyone following Villa closely enough understands the decision. It’s not just this season, it’s his previous efforts at getting us out of a nosedive. We survived 2 years ago by luck rather than his judgment, and that was with Grealish in the team. Last season also faded disappointingly. We need someone with experience to instill confidence,not sure that’s Gerrard."yasuaki replied: I would disagree, also as someone who has watched the team closely for the last few years. The 7 game unbeaten run in the championship to get into the premiership after we’d been written off, & rebuilding the defensive shape over lockdown to get us to stay up were both successful and this was a short run of bad games. There was more to do but I think he could have done it. I’m not for quick fixes.112

      More replies (1)

    • S

      Comment posted by seldomwrong, at 07:28 10 Nov

      Grealish had to go. To win anything. Managers job cope with losing players, to injury or transfer224

      • B

        Reply posted by bigsimon7280, at 08:55 10 Nov

        "Grealish had to go. To win anything. Managers job cope with losing players, to injury or transfer"bigsimon7280 replied: he won’t win anything this season.1416

      More replies (6)

    • B

      Comment posted by barry, at 07:56 10 Nov

      Funny really when I watched Villa before Grealish left there appeared to be 11 Villa players on the pitch not 11 JGs on the pitch playing for Villa.Try watching our team M Utd with so many so called stars it’s painful203

    • G

      Comment posted by Geoffreys mums stick of rhubarb, at 07:52 10 Nov

      Villa chairman and board sanctioned Grealish’s sale, they took the money and ‘reinvested’ it in the squad. Were the signings the Managers? If not then the chairman and the board need look no further than themselves.217

      • B

        Reply posted by Big Phill, at 08:39 10 Nov

        "Villa chairman and board sanctioned Grealish’s sale, they took the money and ‘reinvested’ it in the squad. Were the signings the Managers? If not then the chairman and the board need look no further than themselves."Big Phill replied: There was a release clause in his contract, they were powerless to stop the transfer when the conditions of that clause were met.
        The fact that Man City knew the terms of the clause suggests an illegal approach was made but as we know, transfer rules don’t seem to apply to them227

      More replies (7)

    • W

      Comment posted by WordtotheWise, at 08:17 10 Nov

      Grealish was the perfect fit for Villa and whilst City overpaid for him by about £50 million, the funds were badly used. You can’t get much for £25m these days so two quality £50m players would have been a better bet and might have kept Dean in a job. As it is they’ve now got worst of all worlds. £100m wasted and untried manager to come in and try and keep the up.2212

      • R

        Reply posted by RJsportfan, at 08:45 10 Nov

        "Grealish was the perfect fit for Villa and whilst City overpaid for him by about £50 million, the funds were badly used. You can’t get much for £25m these days so two quality £50m players would have been a better bet and might have kept Dean in a job. As it is they’ve now got worst of all worlds. £100m wasted and untried manager to come in and try and keep the up."RJsportfan replied: Harks back to the Bale money for Spurs also.221

      More replies (7)

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