FOUR turbulent years as manager of Wrexham have done nothing to alter manager Denis Smith's opinion that the Racecourse club is a Championship outfit simply waiting to emerge from the most perilous period of its 133-year existence.
Yesterday's landmark legal ruling that ownership of the Racecourse Ground should be returned to the club's administrators will certainly help to lift morale and steady the ship, but the Dragons boss has always appeared upbeat in the face of adversity.
Last Saturday's 4-2 home win against Torquay United marked the fourth anniversary of Smith's first game in charge of the Dragons following his appointment as successor to Brian Flynn.
And despite a litany of boardroom mismanagement, incompetent leadership, questionable land transfers, directorial bust-ups and the demise of two chairmen, all of which culminated in Wrexham being placed into administration last December, the Dragons boss has appeared steadfast.
Gazing from the window of his Colliers Park office this week, he said: "On day one in the job I said Wrexham could be a Championship club and my view has not changed.
"You only have to look at this training complex, the Racecourse Ground and around North Wales to realise the untapped potential. We live in a big region and while pessimists point out the proximity of Premiership clubs in Merseyside and Manchester, I regard our location as a bonus because it means we can attract players from those areas.
"Everything is set up for the club to do well and prosper, except for what has been happening with regard to the ownership of the club and the lack of direction from the boardroom.
"I've spent the majority of my managerial career in what is now the Championship and I know there is enough potential here to take Wrexham to that level and keep them there."
Now just a month short of his 58th birthday, the former Sunderland, West Brom and Bristol City boss admitted he had thought long and hard before taking the Racecourse job, but is equally adamant he has since had no regrets.
"I had just had a metal plate inserted in my neck and, having planned to retire at 55, I had to consider whether I wanted to carry on working," he added. "But the opportunity came along and I looked at the potential.
"Of course I knew there were problems too - I just didn't realise how bad they were - and those have been compounded by changes in the game, particularly with regard to the transfer market.
"Since I've been here we've lost lots of good players for nothing, which is extremely frustrating. In terms of strikers alone, Lee Trundle, Andy Morrell and Juan Ugarte all left simply because of poor organisation.
"I could not tie them down to contracts because we did not have the financial planning in place, but under contract we would have got money for all three. We've also had to slash the wage bills and work within them.
"But living within our means doesn't mean the club has to stand still and if you go up a division or have a good cup run that money has to be invested for the benefit of the club.
"It's a case of building brick by brick rather than row by row of bricks."
Even such modest progress was threatened by last December's administration order, which brought with it the 10-point deduction that ultimately cost Wrexham their League One status and was the lowest point of Smith's tenure.
"From a personal point of view, I don't like being in League Two because, without being big-headed, I think I'm better than that," he said. "But I had the choice of leaving then or continuing to try and take the club to the level I think it should be at, which I felt was the better course of action. But the effects of the deduction are evident.
"Only four of the players who won the LDV Vans Trophy in April played at Black-pool on Tuesday. Under the circumstances though I find it hard to criticise players like Carlos Edwards, Steve Roberts, Craig Morgan, Chris Llewellyn and Juan Ugarte.
"They walked away because they didn't know what was going to happen to the club and I can understand their motives."
Ugarte yesterday returned to the Dragons on a month's loan, but the rules governing clubs in administration mean it will be difficult for him to remain.
Yesterday's High Court ruling to revert ownership of the Racecourse to the club's administrators should smooth progress towards resolving the ownership issue, but Smith knows a breakthrough is required if similar problems with departures are to be avoided this summer.
"Once we get some stability at the top, we'll get it everywhere else in the club," he added. "If we get things right at the top and we have people there who share our ambitions, we will go forward. It won't happen overnight but the potential is there.
"The youth development policy is excellent and the playing side of things is ticking over, thanks to the support of the administrators, people like Neville Dickens and Geoff Moss and the supporters.
"On the field we have a nucleus of players - Mike Ingham, Simon Spender, Jon Walters, Lee McEvilly, Danny Williams, Andy Holt, Simon Spender - in their early to mid-20s, and if we can hold on to them and convince them the club has a good future, we'll then only have to tweak things a bit to build a really good squad."
Currently working without a contract, Smith admits his own future could also be uncertain, but insists he hasn't given that too much thought.
"Yes, I haven't got a contract here but I've always backed my own ability and if people don't want you, they aren't really worth the paper they are written on," he said..
"Wrexham will be taken over at some stage and then I'll have to decide whether I can work with those people or find somewhere else to go.
"But I like living here, as does my wife Kate. We love the people and, even in the short time we've been in Wrexham, we've seen the area grow.
"New houses and businesses coming in present opportunities for the club to grow the fan base and expand commercial links.
"I enjoy my job and, although I had made plans to retire at 55, if I'm honest it is the last thing I want to do.
"I don't play golf and apart from reading and watching a bit of cricket I don't have any hobbies - so retirement does not hold many attractions.
"If I was to leave Wrexham and couldn't get a job, you would probably find me turning up at one of the local clubs in the area."