October 27, 2012 by mapperleystag1
On the day that he scored only his third goal in seven seasons, it is perhaps fitting to look back on the career of Alan Smith, a player who promised so much but has suffered an alarming fall from grace in recent times.
In scoring with his very first touch on his debut for Leeds United, his local side, Alan Smith quickly became a favourite at Elland Road. Known as much for his tenacity, determination and sheer will to win as his goal scoring ability, Smith quickly established himself in the successful Leeds side under David O’Leary and his five goals in the UEFA Champions League in the 2000-2001 season were instrumental in helping the club reach the semi-finals of the competition. For his performances and endeavours that year, Smith was rewarded by being selected for the national side, the first of nineteen appearances he made for England between 2001 and 2007. In the following seasons, Smith continued to perform admirably for the club in difficult circumstances. At a time when other star players such as Rio Ferdinand, Lee Bowyer, Harry Kewell and Robbie Keane were sold in an increasingly desperate and futile effort by chairman Peter Ridsdale to balance the books after a period of extensive and unsustainable borrowing, Smith won the Supporter’s Player of the Year in consecutive years in 2003 and 2004, in doing so solidifying his hero status at the club. In his final game for Leeds, Smith could not hide his heartache as the club were relegated from the Premier League after a turbulent year on and off the pitch. The scenes after the final whistle where Smith was in tears kissing the badge on his shirt were emblematic of both the utter dejection felt by him and the fans after such torrid years and his loyalty and commitment in these troubled times, which was greatly appreciated by the supporters, especially when many others had walked out on the club. Little did he know that his best days as player were behind him.
In signing for fierce rivals Manchester United in the summer of 2004, Smith’s previously untarnished reputation with the Elland Road faithful was permanently and publicly damaged. Despite being forced into the transfer by the Leeds board due to financial necessity and also deciding to waive his personal transfer fee owed to him by the club, Smith instantly went from hero to villain in the eyes of many, who could not accept his move across the Pennines. In subsequent matches, Smith was compared to Judas by some for his perceived betrayal. However, his three years at Old Trafford were unhappy ones, marred by an atrocious injury suffered in a FA Cup tie at Liverpool, where Smith broke his leg and dislocated his ankle attempting to block a free-kick by John Arne Riise. Moreover, in his spell in Manchester, Smith was converted into a defensive midfielder by Alex Ferguson, who admired his aggression and tough-tackling, seeing him as a natural successor to Roy Keane in the engine room for United. However, his effectiveness in this position was questionable and he was widely criticised for some of his performances in the 2005-2006 campaign, especially his role in United’s 4-1 defeat at Middlesbrough and 1-0 loss to Lille in the Champions League. After recovering from his horrific injury, Smith struggled to regain a starting place for United. In his last season at the club, he only featured nine times as United won the league for the first time since his move. A move at the end of the season to Newcastle United followed, where Smith was utilised in a defensive midfield role again. In his five years on Tyneside, Smith made 85 appearances without scoring a single goal. Furthermore, he was plagued by persistent ankle injuries which hampered his progress. Towards the end of his time with Newcastle, Smith was used increasingly sparingly, with the likes of Danny Guthrie and Cheick Tiote preferred as defensive midfielders by Chris Hughton. In June 2011, after large periods on the bench, Smith was inevitably informed that his services were no longer required and that he was free to leave the club. With interest from sides including former employers Leeds, it was something of a surprise that Smith dropped down to join League One side MK Dons, initially on loan, with the move made permanent before the start of this campaign.
Now plying his trade in the third tier of English football, it is hard not to view Alan Smith’s career as one of wasted talent, especially as he celebrates just his 32nd birthday tomorrow. Equally, due to the abuse and injuries that he has suffered, there is a certain amount of sympathy that can be felt for him. Only a decade ago, he was regarded as one of English football’s brightest talents. Next week, he faces a trip to non-league Cambridge City in the 1st round of the FA Cup. How times change.