Alan Smith, as a graduate of the Leeds United academy, once said the only club he wouldn’t sign for was Manchester United. He kissed their badge when they were relegated in 2004 but less than two weeks later moved to Old Trafford.
Talking to the official club podcast, Smith has reflected on the similarities between the two clubs and what it was like swapping his boyhood team for their hated rivals.
You know the passion that both clubs have got and that’s why I loved playing for both clubs. Just because they are very, very similar. Leeds fans don’t like me for saying it, but they are. The characteristics of both clubs are very, very similar in terms of the beliefs, the history of the clubs, the people who are involved in it, the styles. The passion of the fans is very, very similar. I think that’s why it made my transition quite easy in that first year. And you’re surrounded by world-class players, which makes it a little bit easier as well.
I was a kid when Eric went to United and I was probably one of those throwing stones at the team bus when he came (laughs)! No, I don’t think I did, but you understand what I mean. I was there as a player when Rio left and I think it was a bit different for me, because I was one of their own players, if you put it in that way. I’d been there from 10 years old, so it was big for them that I chose the destination that I did. But as I look at it, they should be proud of one of their own young players going on to whatever destination it was, in terms of the calibre you go to. That should not be forgotten because it’s a Leeds-Man United rivalry. I think, like you said, it didn’t really bother me because it was a decision I made purely based on the good of Leeds financially and myself footballing wise.
Smith made close to 100 appearances for United but his career at the club might have been longer if not for a horrific injury at Anfield in 2006. He left the club in the summer of 2007, on the back of winning the Premier League, and has reflected on when he realised it was time to go.
For me looking back, even though you want to pretend that you are at that level, you know that you are definitely not. I realised that in the pre-season and I spoke to Mickey Phelan about it also, sometimes you need someone just to put stuff into perspective, what you’ve been through, the injury and the process you have gone through. You have got to look at longevity and how long you can keep playing for. Unfortunately it has happened to a lot better players than me, that your time at a club comes to an end and you have to move on.
The hardest thing looking at it now, the hardest thing mentally was having to accept that you are not at that level anymore and I think that the quicker you can accept that – you have got to try and move on from that. It is strange for me because I love football, I love the environment, I have loved being at all the clubs I have been at but I very rarely ever go back. Even when I was still living at home I would never come to United games because I think that you don’t want to always be looking back on what’s gone on. And I love chatting like this and being part of a club’s history but going back is sometimes more difficult because you know what you are missing. And I think that it is so difficult to be able to look back at the past and think about what might have been so you have got to live for the moment. I only ever went back for one match to Manchester United when they played Rangers in the Champions League.