The Monday Profile: Alan Smith

Posted by on Mar 12, 2012 in The Monday Profile | 6 Comments
The Monday Profile: Alan Smith

How many former England internationals are there currently plying their trade in the third tier? Not many, I’d wager. And how many League One players can boast that they once appeared in a Champions League semi-final against Valencia (even if that appearance was curtailed by a red card)? Again, not many. But, as of 29th January this year, there is at least one: Alan Smith. Even still, us Newcastle fans would be very wary of hiring a tent from the MK Dons fan who claimed Smith was a marquee loan signing

Smudger started out with hometown club Leeds, whose fans soon took to the wholehearted local lad, twice awarding him the accolade of Supporters’ Player of the Year. Vilified as a traitor when he left the relegated Whites for Man Utd in 2004, Smith was converted to a defensive midfielder (apparently at the suggestion of Roy Keane) by Fergie, who belatedly realised that goalshyness wasn’t actually a particularly good trait in a striker. The Yorkshireman might possibly have made a name for himself across the Pennines had he not suffered a career-threatening injury at Anfield in 2006. Sidelined for eight months, he never regained a regular first-team place at Old Trafford and, in the summer of 2007, Newcastle stepped in to take him to Tyneside.

Smith had scored on his senior debuts for both of his former clubs, and repeated the trick by grabbing the only goal of a pre-season friendly win over Italian outfit Sampdoria. Talk about flattering to deceive. We were soon disabused of the notion that we might have bought a striker, though remained baffled as to what role our new £6m man actually WAS capable of performing. Sam Allardyce’s brand of combative, direct football should theoretically have helped make the most of his prosaic talents, and yet games would go on around him. It’s telling that even when our defence was shipping goals at an alarming rate as we waged an ultimately unsuccessful battle against relegation from the Premier League in 2008-9, Smith’s appearances were few and far between.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though, that Smith instantly looked more at home and valuable in the Championship. Faced with less pacy, more modestly skilled creative players, he started to assume the assured air of a man in control rather than all at sea, breaking up attacks and generally leading by example – even if he did still pick up the odd booking and early bath. And his commitment to the cause wasn’t restricted to on-field contributions. When we suffered a humiliating 6-1 pre-season trouncing at Leyton Orient, he was apparently one of the group of senior pros who held a players’ inquest, demanding that those uninterested in turning out in the second tier (Obafemi Martins, Habib Beye) pack their bags and urging a togetherness and unity among the remaining squad. Much of our subsequent rehabilitation can be traced back to that incident.

Smudger featured less in the second half of that promotion-winning campaign, though, and back in the top flight he reverted to being the “slow, clumsy bludger” (as I once put it) of yore, leaden-footed and all too easily out-thought. Of course it didn’t help that we brought in Cheick Tiote, another yellow card magnet but one whose ability to protect the defence was inestimably greater. There remained the suspicion, though, that Smith’s sidelining might partly also be a consequence of Mike Ashley’s desire to crush those with significant influence in the dressing room, just as the owner gave Chris Hughton the boot for being too close and too easily manipulated by his squad.

The forgotten man has been restricted to just a couple of cameos in black and white this season, his appearance suggesting that he’s spent most of his time out of action cultivating the sort of prodigious mane of which a salon-coiffed lion would be jealous. Even Smith himself admitted: I’ve been more like the head cheerleader this season. Not an ideal situation for a player who is now 31 and who will be out of contract in the summer – so when an offer of first-team football came in, even from a club two divisions below the level Smith still believes he’s capable of playing at, it was gratefully accepted.

Upon sealing the signing, delighted MK Dons manager Karl Robinson declared: “I would publicly like to thank Alan Pardew and Newcastle United for going the extra mile to help us complete this deal“. That “extra mile“, it was claimed, was to continue paying £57,500 of Smith’s £60,000-a-week salary. If true, it could hardly be said that we’d managed to shift him off the books. It would also echo the situation last season when Cardiff were able to boast a loanee, Craig Bellamy, whose wages they could only afford with considerable assistance from his parent club Man City – surely, like the Bluebirds’ Championship rivals, MK Dons’ opponents would have good grounds for complaining about a distinctly uneven playing field.

Unsurprisingly, Smith has been a regular since arriving in Buckinghamshire, employed in both attacking and defensive roles while continuing to collect bookings like a good restaurant in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. If he can bring to the Dons midfield what he did to ours as we came to terms with life in the Championship, then he could prove to be an extremely valuable asset in their push for promotion. Off the field, too, his experience will no doubt come in handy for a rookie manager like Robinson and young players coming through the ranks, including fellow Toon loanee James Tavernier.

Ben
Ben is a long-suffering Newcastle Utd supporter (is there any other kind?) who co-founded and co-wrote Black & White & Read All Over, a blog that, over the course of a decade, chronicled the ups, downs, chaos and calamity of the club he has the misfortune to follow. Since the blog hung up its boots in May 2014 (note: not as a mark of respect for Shola Ameobi leaving St James’ Park), he has contented himself with sporadic, splenetic Twitter outbursts and shamefully rare contributions to The Two Unfortunates. He is currently haunted by visions of Joe Kinnear returning to the club for a third spell and pondering whether he’ll live to see another victory over the Mackems, but at least has a cardboard coathanger with Robert Lee’s head on it for consolation.

6 Comments

  1. Bluesman
    March 12, 2012

    Alan Smith has had a rough time of it since injury. He is a good sould and still loved and respected by many of the faithful at Leeds United. I am sure he will do well where he is. Would love him to come home though, but not on £60k a week!

    Reply
  2. stan
    March 12, 2012

    Very sad story. To a player that never was,

    RIP

    Alan Smith

    Reply
  3. Steve
    March 12, 2012

    I saw Smith play in MK’s 1-0 loss to Yeovil, and I was very surprised at how poor he was. I was expecting him to be a cut above the rest but he was one of MK’s worst performers, you certainly wouldn’t have picked him if someone asked you to spot the Premierhsip player on loan.

    In the first half he didn’t look very interested in being on the pitch, he was frequently behind the play and wasn’t really supporting attacks or helping to defend, he just seemed to be drifting around. His first-touch deserted him on several occasions, what should have been simple balls to control went astray. He did pick it up in the second half and was more involved. Most telling for me was the fact that he got easily muscled off the ball on several occasions, not something I would expect from him.

    Luke Chadwick, the other ex-Utd player on the MK roster, couldn’t have been more different. His work-rate was exceptional (as it always is) and his link-up play excellent, you always feel like something is going to happen when he gets the ball.

    Reply
  4. Tom
    March 12, 2012

    Saw him play for MK at Hartlepool a couple of weeks ago.

    He certainly didn’t look anything special, but I think it’s very hard to shine in a side where you could very well be the most technically gifted player. The enthusiasm was certainly there and he was always making space for other players & demanding the ball. I fully expect he will be a deal in the bottom end of the PL or the Championship come the summer.

    Reply
  5. orangina
    March 12, 2012

    It is true he didn’t have a very good game at all vs Yeovil but my understanding from MK fans and the local media is he had a much better game at the weekend setting up a goal and looking more lively, it was widely reported that was at least a month away from fitness and having not played for so long and persistent ankle trouble only a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular too soon. I am a Leeds fan and continued to support and follow him, I’m under no illusions that the glory days are well behind Smithy but even if he came for a season and kicked some backsides off the pitch and gave some of his leadership and grit on the training ground I would be absolutely made up. He was apparently “unlucky” not to score at the weekend and put in a “commanding” performance, not being booked for two games is a minor miracle in itself ha haha.
    Lovely bloke whatever the rights and wrongs of “that” move and I really hope the more positive reviews from the Exeter game will kick his arse a bit, needs a shave and a hair cut before he turns into Frank Gallagher! ;)
    P.S If you caught the Soccer Saturday interview (check it out on Youtube) he came across as a very frank and down to earth individual so its nice that some things havent changed. He was never going to be Lionel Messi but his huge heart and gritty determination should win the doubters over.
    He was lucky to even continue playing after the double leg break so given a choice between plodding around on old division three pitches and not playing at all I think I know what he’d choose.

    Reply
  6. Lanterne Rouge
    March 15, 2012

    I have never been a huge fan but I do feel that injuries have been the main reason for his lessened talents – see also M. Owen, F. Torres etc.

    Reply

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