Smith accepts that as the club’s model yet, after his experiences in the Championship with Villa and Brentford, he is regarded as a proven operator to mount a promotion challenge if they do drop down again.
“We’ve been a bit of a yo-yo club and the aim was to come here and to stop that. If we are to go down, the infrastructure is here to develop and get better, and come straight back up,” he says.
“You have to plan for both scenarios. Fortunately I’ve got a sporting director [Stuart Webber] who has done that before, so we’re ready for either division. We want to be a winning team at Premier League level, that’s the ultimate aim.”
Despite Norwich’s position in the table, Smith is relishing his new life in Norfolk. He is about to move into a house in the village of Wreningham, and regularly takes his dog Charlie for long walks on the Norfolk Broads.
He has forged strong bonds with Webber and the club’s owners Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones, and Norwich are undoubtedly a stronger team for his influence. They are better organized and much more of a threat in attack, with summer signings Milot Rashica and Mathias Normann growing in stature and defending Grant Hanley providing leadership on and off the field.
“It’s a great club to work at, though I don’t enjoy getting beaten as often as we have done,” says Smith. “There’s a really good feel about the football club. I’ve worked for very good owners throughout my career and Norwich is a stable club who understand what they are.
“When I met Stuart and Neil [Adams, assistant sporting director]I was only too happy to come because I liked the way they ran the club.”
Smith’s appointment at Norwich came less than a week after the bitter disappointment of being dismissed by Aston Villa, who will face next Saturday. That promises to be a poignant afternoon for the 51-year-old, who was born in Great Barr and supported the club as a kid.
After his arrival in October 2018 he captured the hearts and minds of supporters, galvanizing the club with a thrilling brand of football. Ten victories in a row propelled Villa into the promotion race and they secured a return to the top division in the Championship play-off final against Derby.
He then fulfilled the remit of stabilizing them in the Premier League, achieving an 11th-placed finish in his second season, but last November he was sacked after five defeats in a row.
‘I was asked if I wanted to go in and say my goodbyes – that’s not my style’
“We’d lost at Southampton and I got a text on Sunday morning asking me to come to the training ground,” he recalls. “I knew as soon as I got that text.
“Did it surprise me? A little bit. There had been an interrupted pre-season, we’d lost the best player I’ve worked with for £100million [Jack Grealish]and had injuries to players like Emi Buendia and Ollie Watkins.
“But I know the Premier League, it’s tough and the expectation suddenly rose. I’ve never been worried about getting sacked, because I’m not in control of it.
“The hardest part for me was telling all my friends and family, because it had become their life. I was asked if I wanted to go in on Monday and say my goodbyes, but that’s not my style.”
It is typical of Smith that he refuses to harbor any grudge against his old club. “If somebody said all that would have happened in the three years when I got the job, I’d have ripped their hand off,” he says.
“I’m in the record books at a historic club for winning those 10 games. I will always say keeping Villa up in that first season is my biggest achievement in management. With the owners they’ve got, they will never be in that position again.”
Next week’s return to Villa Park may be an odd experience for Smith but forget about the notion of conflicted loyalties: his work in Norfolk is far too important for that.
“I used to smile every day driving into work and seeing the Villa badge, and they were my boyhood club. But it was three years out of 32 in football and I gave everything to the club I’m at – I fell in love with Walsall and Brentford. Now I’ve fallen in love with Norwich.”