With Alan Smith due to return to Elland Road this weekend for the first time since his well-publicised exit in 2004, I thought it was about time we got the low-down on what the Geordies make of the former Leeds United star.

With that in mind, we welcome Paul from the NUFC Blog (.org) to fill us in and also add Newcastle United’s answer to the ‘Is Smith actually any good these days?’ argument that Leeds United fans seem so keen on;

Alan Smith: Holding on to the bitter end

David very kindly wrote a match report on a Leeds / Newcastle game for my own ‘blog some time ago, and I am now returning the favour by writing about Alan Smith from the perspective of a Newcastle fan, and possibly giving some insight into why some opinions from my fellow fans about ‘Smudger’ have been so negative on occasions.

Smith was one of a series of disastrous signings by Sam Allardyce made around the time that Mike Ashley was in the process of taking over the club. Another one was Geremi, who Sir Bobby Robson warned the club not to sign after he’d been warned by Jose Mourinho that he couldn’t run any more and that he would never play him in important matches at Chelsea.

And so it was with Alan Smith who said in 2009:

“My injury will restrict me from competing at the very highest level. As soon as I did my injury I knew that. I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson about it and we both knew that it would be difficult to play at that standard, week in week out.”

“I am an honest person, I know that I’m not as good as I was, simple as that. There is certain stuff that I’m restricted with when I’m playing, like movement – I don’t play as freely as I used to.”

Despite all this, he was still signed by Newcastle in 2007 in a £6 million, five year deal on wages of over £55,000 per week. At that fee and on those wages, Newcastle had been sold a pup and even Smith himself knew it, but in the unstable world of football, Smith had the best part of 15 million reasons to console himself.

Despite this, it all started well, with Smith scoring on his début in a friendly game against Italian side, Sampdoria. However, despite being signed originally as a forward and attacking midfielder, it was to be his last goal for the club, and things rapidly went downhill from there. The disappointment from Newcastle fans at his performances was palpable, and sometimes grew into anger when they thought about his wages and the length of his contract with the club. Despite the disappointing performances, he appeared in no less than 37 games in all competitions that season.

The next season he managed only six games after picking up another injury; a stress fracture of the knee in pre-season. He made his comeback in February, only to see the side relegated to The Championship.

It was in that Championship season that Smith had perhaps his best season for the club, and not just on the pitch. The Magpies had a disastrous start to their round of pre-season games, a 1-6 defeat to League 2’s Leyton Orient which I witnessed for myself – my ears are still ringing from the barracking of Smith by a neighbouring fan incidentally, though I won’t repeat the obscenities. There was a now famous meeting of the players after that game, which Smith described quite articulately in the following words:

“It was clear that five or six of the players wanted to leave which was fair enough. We had a meeting when we came back from the game – just us players. We said ‘whoever wants to leave they can leave and we’ll help them to go. Whoever wants to stay then commit yourself to stay’. That was a massive turning point. In a way, getting that bad result was the best thing that could have happened. It was screaming out what needed to happen.

“The lads who wanted to leave, left and the rest of us stayed. It wasn’t just me who called the meeting, it was decided amongst us because it was that obvious to see what needed to be done. it was just a case of ‘lets do it’, a team thing. It was one of the strangest things ever. We were managing ourselves. Fair play to them, a few lads stood up and said ‘I want to go’ for whatever reason, to play Premier League football and the like. You can’t hold people back.

“Chris knew that we were having that meeting and he stood back and let us sort things out. There was never a chance that I would be one of the ones asking to go. I needed to play regular football. That’s what I’ve missed for the last three seasons. You just want to play. I was 29 on Wednesday so I can’t afford to miss any more games. I never feel any twinge of regret when I see the likes of Damien Duff playing in the Premier. I wanted to stay.”

He was made vice-captain of the side by then manager, Chris Hughton, though he made many appearances leading the side as captain. Smith is nothing if not determined, and he had remodelled himself as a defensive midfielder. He even earned praise from quite a few fans for his gritty, if inelegant performances in the lower division and his leadership on the pitch. However, with new arrivals in the transfer window, Smith found himself fading into the background once again in the latter part of that Championship season and also when the club were promoted. His fate as a squad player was finally sealed with the arrival of the excellent, if similarly card prone Ivory Coast enforcer, Cheick Tiote from Dutch side, FC Twente.

And so we reach the present day, with Smith marginalised as a squad player, told that he can go if he wants to. He has, of course, been associated with Leeds United, with Ken Bates saying of the club’s interest in Smith in typically forthright style:

“First of all it depends on whether the manager (Simon Grayson) wants him or not, which is his decision and not mine.

“Alan Smith returning to Elland Road would be a very popular move, but we have to be careful because unfortunately over the last few seasons Alan’s had a pretty poor injury record and one thing we can’t afford to do is sign somebody who is not fit to play.

“The other thing of course is Alan Smith’s wages. He’s been at Manchester United and Newcastle, so his wages are probably in the stratosphere, well over the seven-figure region, so I suspect if he did join us he would have to knock a nought off it and probably half it, which may not suit him or his agent.

“But on the other hand nothing is certain and nothing is uncertain.

“I can confirm we’re certainly continuing our quest for the right players and if he was fit of course Alan would be a great addition to the squad, but that would need further consideration and investigation by Simon.”

But more recently, there has been another suitor in the shape of ex Evertonian, Adrian Heath with Orlando City in the US. However, from what Heath said, Smith seems desperate to hold on to the last year of his very lucrative contract, with both sides unwilling to match anything approaching it:

“We have spoken a couple of times so far and it seems at the moment he wants to sit out the last year of his contract at Newcastle. So I may have to wait but if anything changes, he can come to Orlando whenever he wants.”

He may be a useful Championship player, but if I was Leeds United, I certainly wouldn’t wait a year for him, especially if your dreams come true, you have a great season without him and resume your place in the top division.

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