Carabao Cup final: Local hero Dean Smith hopes to lead Aston Villa to win over Man City

Smith (right) celebrates with Jack Grealish after winning promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs
Smith (right) celebrates with Jack Grealish after winning promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs
Carabao Cup final - Aston Villa v Manchester City
Date: Sunday, 1 March Kick-off: 16:30 GMT Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live & live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

It's the Monday after a 1-1 draw at Leeds United in April 2019, Aston Villa's penultimate Championship game of the season.

Three years since relegation from the Premier League, Villa are guaranteed a place in the play-offs and a local television camera crew is out and about near Birmingham to gauge reaction.

They come across a lady out shopping on the high street. "I'm so proud," she says beaming into the camera. "It's fantastic - something he has always wanted to do."

It dawns on the reporter that the lady being interviewed is in fact the mother of Villa boss Dean Smith.

"His dad would be so proud. He's got dementia and he's in a home and doesn't know him," continues Hilary.

Have you got a message for Villa fans? "Thank you for supporting my son. You're absolutely brilliant. God bless you all. Hope we get there [to the Premier League]."

This is Great Barr, where Smith, the son of an Aston toolmaker, is a legend.

An area to the north-west of Birmingham city centre, the 48-year-old Villa boss grew up on the Gorse Farm estate, went to school in these parts, while his uncle Reg is secretary of Great Barr Conservative Club.

On Sunday, the local-boy-made-good will lead his beloved team out against Manchester City at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final.

Will they be dancing on the streets of Great Barr at full-time?

'I dragged him on the European Cup bus'

Like Chris Wilder at Sheffield United, Smith is managing a Premier League club he has supported since childhood.

As a schoolboy, he stood on Villa Park's famous Holte End steps roaring on the team in claret and blue with his brother, Dave. Their deep love of Villa comes from their father, Ron, who worked as a steward in the Trinity Road Stand.

Aged 11, Smith was one of thousands who poured onto the streets of Birmingham to welcome Villa's triumphant 1982 European Cup-winning team back from the Netherlands after a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich.

Pat Heard, an unused substitute in Rotterdam, lived opposite Ron and Hilary and spotted a fresh-faced Smith among the flag-waving hordes.

"I've known Dean since he was nine years old," Heard told BBC Sport.

"He was in the crowd at the town hall, I dragged him on to the bus and he came back with the team to Villa Park."

Aston Villa fans at the 1982 European Cup final in Rotterdam
Aston Villa fans at the 1982 European Cup final in Rotterdam

Smith attended Dartmouth High School in Great Barr - now rebranded and rebuilt as the Q3 Academy. Inspired by Garry Kasparov, he was a keen chess player at an early age while his love of Villa extended to watching midweek reserve games with his brother.

By the age of 18 - after a short stint working in a powder paint company - Smith was embarking on a 16-year playing career as a centre-back which would take him from Walsall, where he was captain at 19, to Port Vale via Hereford United, Leyton Orient and Sheffield Wednesday.

During his playing days, he frequently nipped back to watch Villa when time allowed.

"Before he became a manager, you'd see him down the match occasionally," said Dave Woodhall, editor of the Aston Villa fanzine Heroes & Villains, who would give a lift home to Smith from reserve games when he was growing up.

"He'd talk to anyone, he's just a fan.

"I saw him at the League Cup final against Manchester United in 2010 at half-time. He was sat with the fans at Wembley."

Ashley Preece, Villa correspondent for Birmingham Live, has spoken to people who recall Smith visiting Great Barr Conservative Club in his Sheffield Wednesday tracksuit with his dad.

A banner at Villa Park featuring Smith and his assistant John Terry
A banner at Villa Park featuring Smith and his assistant John Terry

"His uncle is the club's secretary, he's a massive Albion fan but couldn't be prouder of his nephew's triumphs," said Preece.

Since becoming Villa boss, Smith has joked about not being able to find any privacy in the pubs around Birmingham. Even early morning walks with his dog Charlie have changed.

"I walk the dog at half six but then another dog walker wants a photo," he told the Daily Mail in August.

Heard added: "He went on a family holiday last summer and they were all singing 'Deano' as he walked through Birmingham Airport."

The reluctant manager

A captain at every club he played for, it was somewhat inevitable Smith's leadership skills would eventually see him move into coaching.

"He's very intelligent. If he hadn't gone into football he would have been a high-flier in whatever he did," added Heard.

Smith's coaching career began at Orient in 2005, first with the youth team then as assistant to Martin Ling. He was appointed Walsall's head of youth soon after being sacked by Orient in 2009.

He is on record as saying he did not want the job when he was appointed Saddlers caretaker boss after Chris Hutchings was sacked in January 2011.

"There was no-one else - I was the only coach left at Walsall at the time," Smith told the Express & Star.

Smith guided Walsall to the Football League Trophy final at Wembley in 2015
Smith guided Walsall to the Football League Trophy final at Wembley in 2015

Jon Macken featured in Smith's first game as a manager - a 3-3 draw with Tranmere in League One.

The former striker remembers a fledgling manager unafraid to speak his mind.

"If we didn't perform he'd certainly let us know," Macken told BBC Sport. "He didn't shy away from giving me a rollicking at times.

"You knew very early on he was going to be good because he was very focused, knew how he wanted to play and the style he wanted to play."

In 2012, Smith had to tell Macken, whose career included spells in the Premier League with Manchester City and Derby County, he would not be renewing his contract at Walsall.

"He was up front and said 'listen, Jon, we're not going to be offering you anything'. It wasn't 'you're rubbish, see you later'," he recalled.

"We ended up having a good chat about where he wanted to go in football, what I wanted to do, where I was going to go next and how he was going to approach the following season.

"You're never happy when you leave a club. I was disappointed but it was all done correctly."

'Always room for local-boy-made good'

Having turned Walsall into promotion candidates on a relatively low budget, Smith was appointed manager of Championship Brentford in November 2015.

He embraced the club's mathematical modelling to help recruit players, and secured three successive top-10 finishes before his boyhood heroes came calling in October 2018, after sacking Steve Bruce,

Villa were 15th in the second tier at the time but seven months later won promotion after a late-season flourish, including a club-record 10-match winning run.

Currently 17th in the Premier League, one point above the relegation zone, seven of Villa's remaining 11 games are against teams near the top.

"So far he's done everything asked of him," added Woodhall. "A lot of players left last summer and he's had had to build two teams in 12 months."

Whatever happens this season, Woodhall is adamant about one thing.

"In this Premier League world, there should always be room for the local-boy-made-good."