Dean Smith is a man in a hurry to restore his reputation – and has taken only days to return to the Premier League’s managerial front line at Norwich City after being sacked by Aston Villa.
He was self-evidently not in the Canaries’ thoughts when they sacked Daniel Farke on 6 November, minutes after their first Premier League win of the season at Brentford. At that point, Smith was still in charge at Villa Park.
Smith’s dismissal at Villa less than 24 hours later pushed the door at Carrow Road ajar for a swift comeback before it opened wide when Frank Lampard withdrew his interest in the job.
In simple terms, this is a sound appointment.
Smith, a boyhood Villa fan, remains a hugely popular figure with their supporters despite his sacking. They appreciate the work he did in getting them back into the top tier and keeping them there. He left Villa with his reputation pretty much intact.
It is a very swift return, however, coming at the first opportunity that has presented itself. It can be dangerous for someone who has just been sacked to accept the first offer they get. Will the wounds still be too raw? Is his heart is ruling his head after his pride was hurt?
Smith and Norwich will argue against every point.
Farke’s successor goes into a club that likes to give their managers time and Smith worked impressively at Walsall and Brentford before Villa. He has a track record.
He will have been badly wounded by losing the job of his dreams at Villa but knows that Norwich represents a desirable challenge at a club that values stability.
Norwich have always been a club with a long-term vision, so it is perhaps a surprise they have moved for someone who has so recently lost a Premier League job, but Smith has impressed the Canaries’ board and, overall, did a good job at Villa until five straight defeats saw him out of the door.
In some respects, he may turn out to be a better fit than Lampard, even though he does not share the glamorous name and reputation of the England star, who is clearly biding his time to return to football after he was sacked by Chelsea in January.
Lampard failed to get Derby County up in his single season at Pride Park. Smith achieved that feat at Villa. It may just be that this job is more suited to the latter.
Smith’s first priority is to keep his new club up. Sporting director Stuart Webber’s recent combative interviews took understandable offence at charges they are simply occupying a place to collect cash before returning tamely to the Championship next season. Smith will have learned Norwich do not just want to make up the numbers.
The sacking of the popular Farke is testimony to that ambition and in Smith, the Canaries will feel they have someone with a Premier League pedigree who can maintain their top-flight status but also, should the worst happen, a record of working and winning promotion in the Championship.
And Smith has Farke’s first Premier League victory as a platform on which to build.
He is also motivated by the challenge, clearly winning over Norwich’s hierarchy, who would no doubt have been looking for vital signs of whether he was simply grasping at the first chance that came his way after Villa.
Smith’s warm personality will help win over the dressing room and Norwich’s fans, who loved Farke after he won promotion twice at Carrow Road. They will recognise a humble individual who can relate to supporters, perhaps not as much as at Villa Park, where he was regarded as one of their own, but certainly someone with an easy rapport with the fanbase.
Ironically, Smith paid a club record £33m to take Norwich’s promotion-winning talisman Emiliano Buendia to Villa Park in the summer. How the Canaries have missed the Argentine, who is yet to fire at his new club.
So what does he need to do to keep Norwich up?
Finding a role for Billy Gilmour, on loan from Chelsea, is surely key, as is getting the talented Todd Cantwell going again. Gilmour’s performances for Scotland in World Cup qualifiers scream out for his inclusion at club level and it is a mystery how Farke could not get more out of him.
There is raw material to work with. Tim Krul is a proven Premier League keeper, on-loan central defender Ozan Kabak steadily improved during his spell at Liverpool last season and Norwich will hope he does the same now. England Under-21 right-back Max Aarons would attract interest from many should he become available.
Summer signing Mathias Normann has looked a good acquisition, especially in the win at Brentford, while Kosovo forward Milot Rashica was admired by plenty of clubs around Europe before moving from Werder Bremen.
Smith may need to cure an over-dependency on Teemu Pukki up front but, for all their struggles this season, the Canaries are only five points off safety and will be getting a manager with an instant point to prove.
It will be a struggle but those inside Carrow Road may just feel the cards have fallen in their favour as they put Smith in charge of their strategy for Premier League survival.
And it all starts with a crucial game at home to Southampton, the club that finished Smith’s reign at Villa – beating them at St Mary’s in his final match in charge.