Laid in agony and with tears streaming down his face, Alan Smith was left in a state of shock, having blocked Liverpool’s, John Arne Riise’s fierce free kick. Unfortunately for Smith, his block was going to prove costly, leaving him with a broken leg and dislocated ankle. The injury sustained during an FA Cup tie at Anfield in the February of 2006, in which United would go on to lose 1-0, was one of the worst ever seen, described by Sir Alex Ferguson. The injury would rule Smith out for the next nine months.
Alan Smith was signed by Manchester United in the summer of 2004 for a fee of around £7 million. The signing of the peroxide blonde Yorkshireman, divided opinion, specially on the other side of the Pennines. Smith had starred for Leeds United, his boy hood club. Helping the team to reach its pinnacle in modern times, the Champions League semi final. Unfortunately for Smith and Leeds, it all went drastically wrong after that and before you could say ‘ Marching on together’ Leeds were relegated to the second tier of English football. Cue tears from Smith and his passionate kissing of the badge as he left the pitch. Little did the Leeds supporters know what was about to unfold.
Leeds United were in a poor state financially. Smith was told that the club would not be able to pay his wages. Story goes that Manchester United were the only club in for Smith, but i guess we will never really know now. A deal was struck and the hard working front man made his way to Old Trafford. Some high profile players had moved from Leeds to United over the years, but this was one of their own. Leeds through and through. This hurt more then the others. Gordon McQueen, Eric Cantona and Rio Ferdinand all took the chance to switch codes from Yorkshire rose to Lancashire.
“Smithy was Leeds United to the bone, and did the unthinkable.
There were 19 other clubs in that division, and he went with scum.
The only saving grace for Leeds is that we had the best of him and a good Alan Smith is one playing for the Whites, not Manchester United.
To be honest, no I can’t forgive him for it”.
– Matt Millington , LeedLive publisher
Smith signed in the summer of 2004 and United fans immediately thought it was a shrewd move by Sir Alex. Smith scoring in the 3-1 charity shield defeat to Arsenal, with a tidy volley. A debut season hampered by injury would leave the frontman with ten goals by the end of the season. Important games were missed, including a League Cup semi final and the FA Cup final penalty shoot out defeat to Arsenal. Chelsea under Jose Mourinho would sweep all before them and walk the league. Smith when fit, had to make do with cameos as Wayne Rooney and Ruud Van Nistelrooy headed up the striker roles.
With Roy Keane heading towards the twilight of his career, Sir Alex had decided that Smith could do a job in a holding midfield role. With Keane out injured, Smith played with little effectiveness. Smith was also supposedly one of the players to have been attacked verbally by Keane during the infamous MUTV commentary from the 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough. Smith, determined to prove he was the right man for the job, would star in the teams next big fixture, the 1-0 victory at home to Chelsea. A man of the match performance which epitomised the ‘never say die’ spirit of Smith. Only one goal scored in the 2005/06 season had shown the difference in the players positional switch. Holding the team together instead of breaking his neck to get in the oppositions box.
Unfortunately for Smith, with the United team going through transition, his injury would come at a time in which Sir Alex had started to rebuild. The broken leg sustained at Anfield would spell the beginning of the end. Ferguson would woo Michael Carrick from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2006 and with Ruud Van Nistelrooy heading off to pastures new, Louis Saha took his chance to play up top with both hands! Rooney and Saha would spearhead a team that would go on to win the title for the first time in four seasons. Smith, now fit again but struggling to break into a side which also included the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo, as a goal scoring force and also the impact loan signing of Henrik Larsson.
A bit part player but an important one nonetheless. The Champions League quarter final second leg at Old Trafford against Roma, would be the culmination of Smiths hard work to recover from his horrific injury. Smith would start and score the second goal in a 7-1 drubbing of the Italians. The whole team celebrating with Smith, who had scored his first goal in over two years.
The season of 2006/07 would end up bitter sweet for Smith. A Premier League winners medal ( albeit that Smith was one short in appearances to receive a winners medal, the league gave him special dispensation ) losing in the final of the FA Cup to Chelsea. Smith would soon be on his way out of Old Trafford and with Newcastle United paying just under what United had paid three years earlier, headed north to the Tyne.
One of the unsung heroes at a time when United were going through a sticky patch on the league front. So just as the t shirts said in the League Cup Final, that Smith would miss just a week after his horrific injury , ” For You Smudge ”
Ole’s at the wheel