IN the four transfer windows during Simon Grayson’s time as a Championship manager with Leeds United, none passed without him being asked about the possible return of Alan Smith.
The subject was always an emotive one considering the one-time Elland Road hero’s departure in 2004 to the club Leeds supporters could not stomach him joining, Manchester United.
Grayson, though, refused to be put off by any lingering antipathy towards Smith and always answered honestly about how, providing the circumstances suited all parties, he would have enjoyed bringing the former England international back to West Yorkshire.
In the end, the move never happened but, in the type of twist football invariably delights in, tomorrow lunchtime will see Smith trying to put a block on Grayson’s hopes of reaching Wembley as Huddersfield Town travel to Milton Keynes Dons for the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final.
The Terriers manager told the Yorkshire Post: “Alan going there on loan was maybe a surprise at the time but, speaking to one or two people, he just wanted to play football somewhere.
“He could have gone on loan and not played much, whereas at MK Dons that would probably not be the case.
“From what I heard, Alan got his agent to ring them about signing so that says a lot. It has been good for him to get back playing but, hopefully, he will have two bad games against us.”
Smith, by scoring the winner against Sheffield United last month, has already ended a five-year goal drought and Grayson admits to being impressed by the way the the 31-year-old has adapted to playing regularly after managing just 25 minutes of first-team action for Newcastle in the year that preceded his switch to MK Dons.
He said: “Alan is a player I have been linked with a lot. It was always going to be a difficult situation at Leeds as to whether to pursue it or not. Alan had not played that many games so that was something to consider.
“I had no issue in terms of him coming back to Leeds. What was right for the football club was my only concern, not whether 50 per cent of the crowd liked him and 50 per cent didn’t. That would not have been in my thinking.
“We didn’t push it forward because of the injury concerns he’d had. But I am glad he has played regularly since going to MK Dons because he is a football person and someone who is passionate about the game.”
Grayson believes Smith opting to step down two divisions strengthened the reputation of League One in the eyes of the wider footballing world.
He added: “Him coming to League One does show how strong this division is. When I was a player, there wouldn’t have been too many willing to come to the third tier from the level Alan had been at in the Premier League.
“For Alan to go down two leagues shows his passion for the game. But we still hope he gets a poor reception against us.”
n Grayson aims to end on a high: Inside tomorrow’s Yorkshire Post.