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Looking Back On.. Alan Smith’s Time At United

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It’s amazing to think that 7 years ago next Monday Alan Smith (not the one who commentates for Sky Sports) made his debut for Manchester United in the 2004 Community Shield against Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium.

Arsenal deservedly went onto win the match 3-1 with all the goals coming after half time but the game was memorably for Smith’s brilliant equaliser on the day as he showed the kind of commitment on his debut that he would go onto produce over and over again for United in his three seasons at the club.

To many United fans our signing of Smith from Leeds United in May 2004 came as a surprise. Fans firstly doubted whether the England striker had the quality to score goals consistently for us and we would have been better looking at other targets who we could have developed into becoming a top striker for us.

Of course when Smith signed just after the season ended, we had four strikers at the club already. Ruud van Nistelrooy of course was our leading striker with Louis Saha there alongside him. Both Diego Forlan and David Bellion had failed to convince in a United shirt so clearly on the face of things, our fans expected Smith to be used as our third forward at the club.

As the season started Smith, Bellion and Saha in effect started the season as our strikers. Saha got injured within a couple of games and then of course a certain Wayne Rooney joined United from Everton at the end of August. Throughout the summer there after Smith had signed, there were rumours about his departure to the Toffees in a cash + swap deal for Rooney.

Of course that rumour never failed to even materialise and Smith to his credit regardless of our sluggish form at the start of the season slotted in well into our team leading the line well and scoring some crucial goals. Smith ended the season scoring 9 goals in 41 appearances but his dogged attitude had won over Old Trafford and it was hoped he would kick on the following season.

Sadly for Smith that never happened, although it was through no fault of his own.

Firstly after being spoken about as being someone who had the potential to play in midfield in the summer by Sir Alex Ferguson, Smith was indeed placed there at the start of the season and after Roy Keane left United early in the season continued to play in the position without ever really.

By no means did Smith disgrace himself in the position, it was that he didn’t quite convince as a central midfielder and despite playing brilliantly against Chelsea at home (that game where Darren Fletcher scored the winner with a looping header) never really did enough to convince people he could last at United in the position long-term.

To be fair to Smith, with Rooney and van Nistelrooy working well up front and Saha returning from injury, it is doubtful that had he remained as a forward that he would have played as many games as he did prior to the horrible injury he got that ended not only his season but in effect his United career.

Away at Liverpool in an FA Cup tie with United losing 1-0 Smith was brought on for Fletcher to try and bring some fight to our midfield that day which had been run ragged by Steven Gerrard, Didi Haaman and Momo Sisoko. In the closing stages of the game whilst charging down a John Arne Riise free-kick, Smith was stretchered off with a broken leg and a dislocated ankle.

It was a horrid end to a poor day for United. The following week United won the 2006 Carling Cup beating Wigan 4-0 and after the match the team paid tribute to Smith by wearing T-shirts inscribed with “For you Smudge” in homage to Smith in the post-match celebrations.

In the days after the horrid injury against Liverpool, it was estimated that he would be out of action for the next year at least.  Surprisingly he recovered from his injury at the start of the following season but just didn’t quite look the same player in his old forward role and had to build up his fitness in the reserves and at Carrington.

To his credit he returned to play a part of our run-in that season and linked up well giving Sir Alex another option up top. There was even last goal in a United shirt for Smith as he scored our second in that famous 7-1 victory over Roma at Old Trafford with ITV’s Clive Tyldesley screaming ‘The forgotten man is back’ as he celebrated his goal.

Unsurprisingly at the end of that season, Smith was sold to Newcastle where it would be hoped that he’d get his career back on track, after all after his injury scare the year before no-one would have begrudged him of that.

Sadly in his four seasons at the Magpies Smith has had more downs than ups and at the age of 30 has seen his best days of his career behind him. After playing well in his first season, he missed virtually the whole of his second season which saw Newcastle relegated. The following season again he played a key part in Newcastle’s promotion back to the Premier League but struggled again with injuries only featuring 14 times in all competitions.

It’s obvious that after that injury for us back in 2006 he has never really been the same player again and has clearly lost a yard or two in pace. He was certainly a promising hard-working ‘up and at erm’ forward at Leeds who had the potential to have a good long career in the Premier League and for England which sadly as we know he has never been able to fulfil.

By @ADennehey87