Aston Villa's academy can compete with the best says Dean Smith
Dean Smith believes the appointment of Mark Harrison can help Villa’s academy compete with the very best in the country.
The head coach was heavily involved in the recruitment process, which eventually saw Harrison make the switch across the Midlands from rivals Albion, taking over from the departed Sean Kimberley as Villa’s academy boss.
Smith has first-hand experience of his work, having taken on a number of former Baggies youngsters during his time as Walsall boss, including Romaine Sawyers and Paul Downing.
He explained: “We wanted an academy manager who would be the best to make our academy the most progressive in the area.
“Mark has a track record of doing that. I have been impressed with his work and I have seen it close at hand during my time at Walsall and now Villa.
“I have been fortunate to have picked up a number of the players they released from West Brom – Romaine Sawyers being one and Paul Downing too. They (Albion) know how to produce players.
“I think Mark, having now taken over here, can help push the club forward. We want to be the best academy in the area and pushing for (best in) the country. That has to be our aim and ambition.”
Harrison was not the only appointment during a summer which has seen a large-scale revamp of Villa’s coaching set-up.
Youth goalkeeping coach Mark Naylor has also joined from Albion, while the club has recruited former Blues under-23s boss Richard Beale to coach their under-18s.
He is assisted by George Boateng, the former Villa midfielder who has returned to the club where he made 134 appearances between 1999 and 2002.
“He understands the club and knows what it takes to make it as a player. He played a number of matches himself at the top level,” said Smith.
“He is working with Richard, who has crossed the divide from Birmingham City.
“He is another well-established coach and another who is very good at his job, who I have known for a long time.”
Villa have a proud history of bringing through their own players, with current skipper Jack Grealish being the most notable example.
Grealish benefited from a season-long loan spell with Notts County earlier in his career and Smith revealed there is now an increased focus on getting young players game time.
“We have a policy this year of getting more players out on loan and we are keeping tabs on how they are doing,” said the boss.
“Young Callum O’Hare scored the winner for Coventry on Saturday. They are getting the experience we believe they need to push for a first-team place.”