Earning the prestigious title of Premier League manager is a remarkable feat at any club, but to do so for your boyhood team makes it that bit sweeter – and that bit more surreal.

Dean Smith, who became Aston Villa manager in 2018 and has supported them for as long as he can remember, admits that when he was offered the role he had to set his emotions aside and focus solely on whether it was the right decision to drive his career forward – something often easier said than done.

Speaking exclusively to UCFB as part of the LMA Insight Series, he said: “When the opportunity came, I had to stick my professional head on and make sure that I was taking the job for the right reasons at the right time. I had to involve my family, my daughter and my son in the actual talks about whether I went and took the job or not.”

He added: “I’ve always been an Aston Villa fan; my family have always been Aston Villa fans. My dad was a steward there for 25 years and used to take myself and my brother to the matches.”

Fortunately for Villa, Smith accepted the role – and it didn’t take him long to make an impact, earning the club promotion back to the top flight in his first season. While he’s proven that his place in the dugout is deserved, stretching far beyond his undying support of the club, there are still times, he says, when it’s impossible to separate being a manager from being a fan.

Smith went on: “Aston Villa is close to my heart and means an awful lot. The thing that hits me the most is when we lose matches. I know all my family, my friends who are Villa fans, I know how hard it is for them, and to see the criticism that naturally then comes your way.”

But the former Sheffield Wednesday player doesn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for himself. Reflecting on his time with the club so far, Smith said: “It’s been really enjoyable, and the people around have been really supportive as well so certainly that has helped with the process. Hopefully we can go and win something with Aston Villa.”

Asked if it gets any better than this, he replied, grinning: “I don’t think it does.”