Growing up in my house, “City” was a dirty word. I soon learnt that “Scousers” was even worse. But something I’ve known for a very long time is that “Leeds” is scum. Aside from terrace chants of “We all ‘ate Leeds scum”, and the sheer joy we get from Leeds being our feeder club and passing along the great Cantona for next to nothing, hating Leeds has been something my Dad has instilled in me from a very early age.
I lived in Leeds a few years back, and didn’t really come in to contact with many people actually from Leeds, as I lived in the student area. I remember thinking my Dad was overreacting, and although I’ve heard more than enough stories about Leeds fans bragging about killing people and spitting in United supporting children’s faces, I have never had any first hand experience of it myself.
I watched the Leeds vs Watford game yesterday, and I wanted Leeds to win. Not because I have a new found affinity for them, but because I miss Leeds vs United games. Memories of Cantona scoring in front of the Leeds fans, running over to them and holding out his arms, only for Giggs to drag him away, are fresh to me. Unfortunately, so too are memories of Alan Smith kissing the Leeds scum badge at Old Trafford.
I’d been looking forward to Leeds coming up so that Smith could play against them. He’d get ripped to shreds all game, and their fans would hate him, but I was looking forward to seeing him walk out at Elland Road next season wearing red, black and white. The boy who was Leeds through and through left them for us, and I could hardly wait.
In this daydream, it struck me that I couldn’t imagine where Smith was going to be playing. Would he be at the heart of midfield, sticking in a rough challenge that would have their supporters in uproar? Or would he be in front of the goal, rifling in a shot from the edge of the area? The idea of him playing against Leeds next year has gone out of the window, but the question of where he’ll be playing next season still remains.
I remember being at Old Trafford towards the 04/05 season, and the whole crowd singing Alan Smith’s name for large portions of the game. I was fed up. I suppose I was more fed up with the way United’s season was going than I was with Smith, but I was still fed up with him nevertheless. Yes, we all loved him for his fighting spirit and ‘never say die’ attitude, and yes we all loved him because he left Leeds to play for us… but he wasn’t scoring enough goals. In a season where we were really struggling due to Ruud’s absence, I’d been confident Smith could fill his shoes, but he hadn’t done. In the league, he’d scored 6 goals in 31 appearances (22 starts). That’s not good enough. Without trying to sound like a know it all, or a bullshitter, I’d said several times to my Dad that Smith should be playing in midfield, and I really was chuffed to see Fergie play him there this season.
I remember the Middlesbrough game, just a few months after this converted striker had made a switch in position, and Smith looked completely out of his depth. He didn’t know where to go, who to mark, or generally, what the hell he was supposed to be doing. No matter how much passion and fight he had, he couldn’t do the job that day, and that was a contributing reason to us getting thumped by a shit team.
There was a mini uproar around the country when it was announced that Smith had turned down the chance to be in the England team so he could play for United reserves. My mates missus works at Old Trafford (in the department where they get all the balls, tshirts, pictures etc. signed for charity and fans) and asked him why he’d done it. He told her that it was United who believed in him, not England, that it was Fergie who was striving to make him a better player, not Sven, and that he’d never pass up a chance to play 90 minutes of football for his team, over a 3 minute run out to give someone like Lampard or Gerrard a rest.
I wonder how many strikers would play as a defensive midfielder, just because their manager said so, and still give 100% every game? The Chelsea game kicked off and Alan Smith was lined up in the centre again, just a few days after Roy Keane had ripped him apart on MUTV. The pressure was on. He faced Lampard, Essien and Makelele, probably the best central midfield in Europe, with years of experience on all levels under their belt. And there was Alan Smith, who only a few months ago was playing as a striker. Did he let that stop him bossing the midfield that day? Course it bloody well didn’t. Every 50/50 ball he won and every glimpse at a challenge he’d take. The two best teams in England were playing that day, and Alan Smith, the defensive midfielder, walked off the pitch as the Man of the Match. How did he do it? “Work rate and commitment” he said in his post match interview, collecting the bottle of champagne.
Now I know there’s a big split on where Alan should be playing next season, and from what I’ve heard, most people want him up front again. I don’t totally object to that, but I still think he can do the job in midfield, and that’s where I want him to play. Leading up to his injury, he seemed to be getting a hold on the position, and no, not world class, because how many players are world class after adopting an opposition position for just a few months, but definitely getting better. If he’s capable of outshining the Chelsea midfield, then he’s capable of outshining any midfield, he just needs to get consistancy in to his game. He has so much heart, and drive, and passion, and those are qualities I want to see in the centre of our midfield. I want our opposition to run in to our half and think “Oh shit, there’s Smith”.
I think the point remains though, wherever Smith is playing next season, he’ll continue to give it 100% There aren’t many players like him, and I just want Ferguson to play him in the position where he’ll do best. I cant wait to see him wearing red again next season.
“You need a reminder that you are at a big club, you’re not at your previous clubs.” – Alan Smith, November 2005
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