LONDON: Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said the “potential now is massive” after the club ended a three-year exile from the English Premier League on Monday.
A 2-1 victory over Midlands rivals Derby County in the Championship play-off final at Wembley – the so-called “richest game in football” will be worth at least £170 million (US$216 million) to Villa.
“It feels very good,” Smith, a lifelong Villa fan, told Sky Sports after goals from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn put his side 2-0 up before Jack Marriott pulled one back for Derby nine minutes from time.
“To be honest, the lads are a terrific bunch. They take on different ideas, they deserve it. I believe pressure is what you put on yourself, we work hard every day, the only difference is expectation.”
A top-flight team for decades and based in the ‘second city’ of Birmingham, Villa won the old First Division title in 1981 and the European Cup in 1982.
But they were unable to build on that success and, following the long reign as chairman of the late Doug Ellis, best known for his hiring and firing of managers, American billionaire Randy Lerner’s takeover in 2006 failed to bring the good time back to Villa Park.
Smith, however, believes the current co-owners can provide Villa with the backing they require to again become an established Premier League side.
Wes Edens is a US-based sports entrepreneur who had something to celebrate on Saturday after his Milwaukee Bucks basketball team saw their bid to reach the NBA Finals end with a defeat by the Toronto Raptors on Friday, while Nassef Sawiris is a member of one of the wealthiest families in Egypt.
“We’ve got two owners who have got a lot of money, and are in it for the long haul,” insisted Smith. “The potential now is massive.”
Smith, who started the season in charge of Championship rivals Brentford, took over at his boyhood club in October with John Terry – a former Chelsea and England team-mate of Derby boss Frank Lampard – as one of his assistants.
A late run of form took Villa into the playoffs, with Smith adding: “If someone had told me at the beginning of February that I’d be standing here as a Premier League manager, I’d have said ‘you’re crackers’.
“We made history by winning 10 games on the spin. In this league that’s a tough thing to do.
“We’ve had to start planning for the Premier League over the last month. We’ve had to look at becoming a Premier League club which we’ve been able to do.”
For Lampard, in his first season as a manager, there were, understandably, more mixed emotions after the final whistle.
“Huge disappointment obviously but at the same time my overriding feeling is pride for the lads in there,” he said.
Monday’s victory in front of a Wembley crowd that included Britain’s Prince William among Villa’s fans was especially poignant for Smith, whose father is suffering from dementia
“I went to see my old man on Friday, and I managed to get his eyes open for two minutes and I said to him ‘next time you see me I’m going to be a Premier League manager’.
“He smiled and nodded, for me that’s enough.”