Aston Villa Make Potentially One of Their Most Pivotal Signings of the Window

If you were to pick anybody for Dean Smith to solidify his coaching staff in a practical fashion for a second Premier League campaign, then Craig Shakespeare would certainly be high up on any shortlists. Having left Watford after Nigel Pearson was sacked, with only two games to play at the end of last season, it was very much opportunity knocks for Villa.

This week Shakespeare joins both Johan Lange (Sporting Director) and Rob MacKenzie (Player Recruitment), as the latest addition to Villa’s backroom staff.

In terms of Lange and MacKenzie, Villa have continued to evolve their recruitment and development infrastructure to be more savvy in the long run. Hopefully in the future, the club won’t be in a position of considering to drop £50m on a pair of Championship players, the likes of which they’d now hope to identify earlier and develop themselves.

Meanwhile, in terms of coaching, Smith, John Terry and Richard O’Kelly experienced their first season as coaches in the top tier last season, so Premier League experience was very much in short supply at B6. While they were learning on the job and arguably improving to secure Villa’s survival, the injection of Shakespeare’s top tier know-how will help fast-track their development and the club’s ambition.

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Shakespearean Link-Ups

Born in Birmingham, Shakespeare had played 350 games for Walsall, leaving in 1989, the same year Dean Smith started his career as a Sadlers’ player. While Shakespeare also went onto play over a 100 games at both West Brom and Grimsby, it’s his recent coaching exploits that make his appointment for Villa a smart one.

“I was keen to add some Premier League know-how and Craig certainly has that in abundance,” said Smith, in Villa’s press release of the appointment.

Shakespeare went from being West Brom’s reserve team manager to join Nigel Pearson at Leicester City back in 2008, where he spent an eventful eight years that defined his reputation – winning promotions, lifting the Premier League title with Claude Raineri and then rounding it off by having a spell as the Foxes boss himself.

Shakespeare will reteam with MacKenzie at Villa, who spent more than three years as Leicester City’s head of technical scouting, and was responsible for recruiting many of the names that made the backbone of the Foxes’ title-winning team.

Trivial Stuff

The appointment also triggered the Birmingham Mail’s go-to clickbait headline ‘Aston Villa fans will love…’, as they rehashed Shakespeare’s interview on Watford’s website where he proudly proclaimed himself a Villa fan.

Interestingly, the outlet previously used to make a big deal about Shakespeare being a boyhood Baggies fan, but an article with Shakespeare reminiscing about Jeff Astle and other Albion heroes, mysteriously disappeared yesterday, after being live earlier in the day.

Back in the day, football in the Midlands was less tribal than it was today, so in the period Shakespeare’s father was following football, people would turn up at Villa Park one week and the Hawthorns the next, to get their football fix (such behaviour even extended to St Andrews).

I’m sure Shakespeare had an interest in both teams as a kid, but being a Villa fan, while a nice touch, matters not, when it comes to what he’ll bring to the ranks to improve the team.

Key to Immediate Villa Improvement

The first steps have already been made in terms of tightening up Villa’s defence, but if Villa’s new Assistant Head Coach can help iron out the 11 errors that led to conceding goals last season (the second highest in the league), then there should be an immediate improvement in results and league position. Too many cheap points were surrendered last season, with such errors undoing some good effort and very promising play in matches.

If that improvement happens, certainly you have the foundation for a much more capable Villa team, that with a few additions in terms of quality to the first XI and bench, could make next season interesting.

Shakespeare certainly knows a thing or two about the follow-up season a newly promoted team has, after a tough transitional season back in the Premier League.

You may remember the season I’m referring to.


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  1. We won’t better that signing this window even if Tammy comes back. He will give us prem and winning experience. My go we need it????

  2. Callum Wilson PX for Hogan a great deal for us , but only as a back up striker,Wouldn’t want us to do this and then think that’s good enough because he’s no where near where we need to be in terms of quality proven strikers, and on the subject of signings if we are serious about Benrahma and Watkins I realise there’s a lot more involved but just get on with it I believe we need the players together New signings as well when they all return in a weeks time.
    As I say it’s only my opinion but Wilson as back up but very unsure about Watkins as our main man up front, don’t know what anyone else thinks about this striker saga,

  3. Said all along Dean Smith needs some Prem experience on his Management Team. If Terry stays thats good if he does go we are more than covered. Could do with JT having a word with Chelsea and get us Abrahams signed up. He’s got the Prem experience needed that we never had last season. What we need this time is quality not quantity.

  4. In love with the back room improvements. Believe CS appointment is to allow JT to move on to fulfil his managers dream… Certainly we need better input and performance And plugging for our leaky defence assumed previously under JT leadership. I see this as a more ruthless appointment to help DS’s owns shortcomings.

    While I am sure much work has occurred about the 4/5 new upgrade players we will need for this new season, maybe another if we lose our Captain, we need to complete our business early to have the new players in the squad before the start.

    • CS appointment is nothing to do with JT’s career choices. Smith & his coaches lack Premier League coaching experience. CS is Villa getting lucky, as opportunity knocked after his Watford sacking with Pearson. This gives Smith valuable assistance with great experience of getting a team to punch above its weight against the Top Four in this league. It’s part of the plan to challenge again IMO.

  5. A good signing I think, I’m just a little concerned that we seem to be talking a lot about potential new signings but we’ve been historically good at missing the boat, last season we let Benrahma and Maupay pass us by and now we are going to pay through the nose if we go for Benrahma and Watkins, and I personally I would like to see a top quality striker possibly Tammy Abraham’s if today’s reports are to be believed we should be talking to Chelsea now. Don’t leave it too late again.

    • It’s certainly a tricky market. £50m for two Championship players? Hmmmm. Part of why Villa are concentrating on their recruitment team is so they can identify such players much earlier (i.e. before Brentford buy them!) and not have their pants pulled down on prices.

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