A former Manchester United star has detailed his controversial arrival at the club and the injuries he sustained during his playing career that still plague him to this day.
Sir Alex Ferguson led United into an unprecedented era of Premier League dominance during the late 90s and early 00s.
Arriving at a dressing room full of big personalities for the most successful club in the country during that time would have been a daunting task for any player.
Couple that with being just 23, and having previously stated publicly that you would never play for the club, making an impression would have no doubt been no easy proposition.
But that is precisely the situation Alan Smith found himself in when Sir Alex brought the forward to Old Trafford in the summer of 2004 after Leeds were relegated from the Premier League.
A former Manchester United star has detailed his time at the club and his relationship with Roy Keane
Alan Smith arrived at Old Trafford from Leeds having previously stated publicly that he would never join Sir Alex Ferguson’s side
Asked about his infamous comment, Smith revealed it was a product of his inexperience in football but insists he doesn’t regret making it.
‘I made that comment a good few years before leaving to join the club and I think it was naivety. When I said it, Leeds were flying and doing really well,’ Smith told the Manchester Evening News.
‘Football is just a dream when you grow up as a kid. I got into the first-team so young and Leeds were doing well, so I never expected such a fall from grace. The quote was probably naivety and wanting more love from the Leeds fans.
‘You know the rivalry between the clubs is there. It was something I don’t regret saying because I was so young.’
After arriving as a forward, Smith found himself struggling to find regular game time amidst the wealth of attacking options the club possessed at the time.
As a result, the England international began to be refashioned into a deep-lying midfielder, a role that saw him often deputise for Roy Keane as the legendary Irishman approached the end of his career at the club.
‘He was impossible to replace because of his personality and the manager knew he was struggling injury-wise and couldn’t play three games in a week,’ Smith said.
‘I was just someone who was willing to play that role, to try to do it to the best of my ability. I was never overawed by it because I thought it was a compliment, thinking that I’d never be as good as him but that I could fill in.
But the England international quickly endeared himself to the United faithful for his performances
Smith described the relationship he shared with Keane as Sir Alex groomed him as a potential successor to the Irishman
‘It was a learning curve for me, although after my injury, it was probably the only position I could play, so to have the opportunity to learn it before I got my injury really helped me to prolong my career when I look back.’
Operating in Keane’s role led to the pair becoming closer, and Smith revealed that he took great lessons from working alongside the United captain.
‘Me and Roy had such a great relationship, to be honest. I’ve been a football geek my whole life and we’d talk about that, but people don’t see that side of me because they think I’ve got a reputation, but I’m the opposite,’ he explained.
‘I loved football from when I first started playing and for me and Roy, it was interesting because we’d go out and we would drink pots of tea and just chat about football. He’d tell me about all of his experiences previously.
Despite arriving from one of the club’s fiercest rivals, Smith quickly endeared himself to the United faithful and looked set to be entrusted with filling the void opened by Keane’s departure in November 2005.
However, just three months later Smith would suffer a double leg break and dislocated ankle during an FA Cup clash with Liverpool that threatened to bring his career to a premature end.
‘There were question marks about whether I’d be able to carry on playing. I knew that from a medical point of view but that never really entered my mind,’ Smith said.
‘I didn’t really care about what level I’d get back to, I just wanted to try to get fit, try and play. I remember speaking to the hand surgeon who did my ankle surgery, which shows you how intricate it was, and he was honest with me.
Smith also detailed the injury he suffered against Liverpool in 2006 that still causes him pain to this day
But the 42-year-old Premier League winner insisted that he wouldn’t change anything in his career
‘He told me I’d be very restricted, even if I managed to recover. I worked with Michael Clegg every single day in the gym and that helped your mind more than anything else because you’re desperate to play and you can’t.’
Though he would return to action for the 2006-07 season, winning a Premier League medal, Smith’s time at United would come to an end the following summer but the damage of his injury has continued to affect him.
‘I try my best to play when I coach now, but I’m limited. It’s difficult being in pain all the time, but I managed to play for another 13 years,’ he said.
‘I went to Newcastle and I loved my time there and I wouldn’t change any of it, even if my injury has me in pain every day because I believe these setbacks test you and I’ve met so many good people along the way who looked after me.
‘Would I like to be in less pain and be able to play? Absolutely, but it taught me a lot of lessons. I think it humbles you as a person because you’re on an upward spiral and all of a sudden you come crashing down.’