Leicester turn to Dean Smith to save their Premier League lives

TOM COLLOMOSSE: Leicester hope Dean Smith can repeat his heroics that led Aston Villa to safety in 2020… but he failed to keep Norwich up last year and it’s Manchester City up next for the struggling Foxes

  • Dean Smith has been named Leicester manager for the remainder of the season 
  • Former Aston Villa man is charged with keeping the Foxes in the Premier League 
  • John Terry and former Foxes assistant Craig Shakespeare will be on his staff  

Dean Smith has been tasked with repeating the heroics that led Aston Villa to safety after agreeing to take charge of struggling Leicester until the end of the season.

Smith has signed a deal for the remaining eight games with one simple objective: keep Leicester in the Premier League. The Foxes are two points off safety but their next game is at Manchester City and they have taken only one point from a possible 24.

As first reported by Sportsmail, Smith will bring in former England captain John Terry as part of his coaching staff, along with ex-Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare. Shakespeare was a key member of Claudio Ranieri’s coaching staff when Leicester won the title in 2016, and was manager the following year when they reached the Champions League quarter-finals.

More pertinently, Shakespeare was also involved when Leicester staged the ‘great escape’ from relegation in 2015 under Nigel Pearson.

Leicester have moved for Smith after acknowledging their initial plan to replace Brendan Rodgers was not working. Rodgers was sacked on April 2 and the club entrusted first-team coach Adam Sadler and goalkeeping coach Mike Stowell with steering a course to safety, hoping to appoint a permanent manager in the summer. Graham Potter, recently sacked by Chelsea, was the preferred option.

Dean Smith has been named Leicester City manager until the end of the current season

Smith will have former England captain John Terry (right) alongside him again, after the pair worked together at Aston Villa

Leicester are currently in the Premier League’s relegation zone after a torrid run of form

But Leicester were beaten at home by Villa and Bournemouth under Sadler and Stowell and the club hierarchy realised they had to act again to try to prevent the slide into the Championship. Jesse Marsch and Rafael Benitez were the other names on the shortlist but Leicester opted for Smith.

Smith has been out of the game since his sacking by Norwich on December 27. He failed to keep the Canaries in the top flight last term and left when they were fifth in the Championship. They are now eighth.

Yet one of Smith’s finest achievements at Villa was to keep the club in the top flight when all hope looked lost. With four games remaining of the 2019-20 campaign, Villa were seven points adrift of safety. But they then won two and drew two, and stayed above the line by a single point.

There was steady improvement the following season, when Villa finished 11th. But they lost Jack Grealish to Manchester City in summer 2021 and Smith was sacked that November after five straight defeats – though his final win at Villa was at Old Trafford barely a month earlier.

Smith has been out of management since December when he was sacked by Norwich

Former title-winning assistant Craig Shakespeare (left) will also be part of Smith’s staff

Though it did not work for Smith at Norwich, his record at Villa is serious. He led the club back to the Premier League in his first full season, and kept them there the following one against a backdrop of confusion and chaos.

He led them to 11th in 2020-21 despite being without Jack Grealish for a significant part of the campaign and then saw Villa’s homegrown star join Manchester City for £100million at the end of that season. Both Smith and Steven Gerrard struggled with the post-Grealish era and it is only now under Unai Emery – a proven top-line coach with a salary to match – that they are pushing for European football again.

Smith’s key tasks will be to revive a squad whose morale is on the floor, gee up star man James Maddison after his decisive mistake against Bournemouth, and fix a fragile defence. Maddison and Grealish are close and if Maddison calls his England colleague about Smith, his new boss will receive a glowing reference.

When he kept Villa up in 2020, Smith talked often about playing ‘tournament football’ when the league resumed after lockdown. With games against fellow strugglers Wolves, Leeds and Everton to follow the trip to City, this mindset is exactly what Leicester need.

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