Dean Smith reveals the NSWE meeting which sparked Aston Villa's rise to the Champions League

Dean Smith expects Aston Villa to continue challenging for the places towards the top of the Premier League in the coming years because of the drive and willingness to invest of owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. Villa have, under Unai Emery, clinched Champions League football for the first time in its modern guise this year having secured fourth place.

Indeed the Villans have come a long way since Smith discovered them, back in 2018, in the lower reaches of the Championship after Steve Bruce was sacked. Mid-table

mediocrity was quickly followed by promotion

thanks to influence of Jack Grealish and Smith successfully guided Villa to survive back in the top flight before posting a posting a third successive improved season finish a year later.

Now with Charlotte in the US, Smith - who is still an avid Villa supporter - hasn't been left surprised by Villa's continued rise under Emery and, more pertinently, NSWE, who he revealed outlined their intentions to reach European football's biggest stage when they were interviewing him for the job.

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"I believe it will because of the owners' (Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris) passion and drive to become one of those teams who can be a top-six team every year," Smith told BBC Sport. "I remember when I first went for talks with Suso [Jesus Garcia Pitarch], Christian Purslow and the owners and there was a five-year plan to get into the Champions League. This is the fifth year and their plan has come to fruition.

"The owners had a vision, had to spend for what they wanted to do and going from the Championship to the Champions League in five years is an incredible achievement. I believed it was achievable. I said when we were promoted the next step was to stay up, and once we did, we spent our money really well, we brought in Ollie Watkins, Matty Cash, Bertrand Traore and Ross Barkley on loan.

"I always felt after finishing 17th in that first year, climbing six or seven places would be really achievable, which is what we did [Villa finished mid-table in their second year]. The next step of climbing two or three places was going to be hard because you were trying to pass established clubs. You were always going to have to overtake one of them to get to that elite level. Unai has done unbelievably well."

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