Whatever happened to Alan Smith?

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In last month’s League One clash between MK Dons and their fellow play-off hopefuls, Sheffield United, a familiar name popped up on the score sheet. It was a name that had not graced a Football League score sheet for more than five years, but it was one that consigned United to a 1-0 defeat on the day. So was this really the same Alan Smith that signed for one of the world’s biggest club sides almost eight years ago to the day?

The peroxide-blonde locks are gone and a shaggy mane sits in their place, but there is no mistaking the tenacity of a player who once scored with the very first touch of his Premier League debut for Leeds United. Smith was a fans’ favourite in Yorkshire, winning the club’s “Supporter’s Player of the Season” accolade in consecutive years – the first player to do so in Leeds’ history. He also formed one half of an impressive strike-force with a certain Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and subsequently played a key part on the right-hand side of midfield in a successful Leeds side that included the likes of Mark Viduka, Rio Ferdinand and Harry Kewell. Whilst Smith’s goalscoring record was never likely to trouble Europe’s elite, he possessed a passion and willingness to run that proved just as valuable to his managers as it did to the fans.

It was these qualities that tempted Sir Alex Ferguson into spending £7million to pry Smith away from Leeds as the club were relegated in 2004. Despite injury troubles and competition for a place from world-class talent in the form of Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy, Smith managed to endear himself to the majority of United supporters – no mean feat for a life-long Leeds fan. So where did it all start to go wrong for this exciting young talent?

As Manchester United’s other strikers continued brilliant goalscoring form, Ferguson spotted the opportunity to nurture his tenacious side and groom him as a replacement for the ageing Roy Keane. It seemed a perfect solution – Smith’s fondness for a crunching tackle and his dogged battling would be sure to drive the whole United side from the centre of midfield. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the master plan that the club’s coaching staff had hoped for, and after two years of lacklustre performances and a horrific leg-break picked up whilst blocking a trademark John Arne Riise free-kick, Smith was shipped off to Newcastle United.

Having been utilised a holding midfield player for several seasons, it appeared that Smith had lost his touch in front of goal. After failing to score a single goal for Newcastle, and falling behind new signings Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa in the midfield pecking order, Smith was informed by the club that his services were no longer required, which brings us to today. In January of this year, after 85 goalless games for the Toon, Smith joined MK Dons on loan until the end of the 2011/12 season. With two goals in this period for the Dons, perhaps the scoring knack is back, but his future is currently undecided. What is clear though, is that wherever he plays next season, it is likely to be at a significantly lower level than that of his high-flying Newcastle United team mates.

Is Alan Smith a wasted talent? A multitude of injuries and disciplinary issues certainly haven’t helped his cause. What seems more likely, though, is that Smith is a victim of the “utility player” tag. Since his days at Leeds where he began to operate out wide as well as up front, managers have shifted Smith from one position to another and he has been unable to ever really make one his own. Where he will be playing next year, and in what position, nobody can really be sure.

Follow Craig on Twitter @craignan89

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