IF, as defender Tommy Smith hopes, tomorrow brings a recall to the Huddersfield Town starting XI, chances are the club captain will be shaking hands before kick-off with someone he knows only from passing in the corridors of Manchester City’s old training ground.
The Terriers full-back spent almost a decade with the Blues from the age of 11, but the closest he came to the first team was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero off the field.
“Whether he (Kompany) remembers me or not, I am not sure,” said Smith ahead of Huddersfield taking on the runaway Premier League leaders at the John Smith’s Stadium.
“I will find out on Sunday, but it doesn’t really matter, either way. Vincent Kompany is a top guy, from what I remember of him.”
Kompany, of course, could be forgiven for not being able to place the face of someone who suffered such a serious broken leg during what proved to be his final year at the Etihad that much of it was spent on rehabilitation.
Once fit, Smith called time on his dream of making the breakthrough with the Blues by asking for his contract to be cancelled early. The injury, together with the defender’s need to get out and play games, was behind the plea, which came a few months before the defender’s 20th birthday.
The parting of the ways in January 2012 was at a time when Kompany and his team-mates were embroiled in a title race that would eventually be won courtesy of ‘that’ goal by Aguero in stoppage-time against Queens Park Rangers on the final day.
Tomorrow, Smith is hoping his career can travel full circle by lining up against a club he still supports.
“I have been waiting for this moment for several years,” said Smith, who joined Huddersfield later that Spring after an initial spell training with Tranmere Rovers. “When I left I wanted to show them, even though me leaving was a mutual decision.
“The injury had turned into a bit of a slow process. I eventually got back in the November, but I wanted to find first-team football for myself. They were fine with that and we shook hands.
“Was it tough the first few weeks? Of course it was. I had been there a long time. But I had to get over that and get on with my life. I did that and am now in a great place again.”
With almost 175 appearances for Huddersfield to his name, Smith’s decision to leave City has been fully justified. He does, though, still retain plenty of warmth towards the club.
“Manchester City is a totally new club to the one I was at,” he added. “But one that is still close to my heart. I joined at 11 and went to all the matches with my dad. You form a bond when there for so long. I spent three or four days per week there so that bond will always be there, regardless of where my career takes me.
“When I was there, I wanted to play with people like Vincent Kompany. That is what I was thinking about when I saw him in the corridors. It was only after I left that I started thinking, ‘Okay, one day I might play against you’. Hopefully, that can now happen.”
Smith missed out on facing his former club when City came to the John Smith’s Stadium last season in the FA Cup fifth round.
Head coach David Wagner’s rotation policy saw to that, the Town captain being one of several to drop to the bench with the visit of Reading just four days later in mind.
It was a similar story in the replay, though this time the City Academy graduate did at least make it on for the final half hour of a 5-1 defeat.
“I came on and we were losing 3-1,” he recalls. “It was nice to get on, but the feeling was still a weird one. You build up to it and are excited, but once you get on the grass it is all about getting down to business, not the emotions of everything. All that went out the window.
“What that night did do, though, was bring home to me how much things have changed there. When I left, the training ground was still at Carrington. That is where I went every day, but now the club trains next to the stadium.
“There was a transition when I was there due to all the money that came in (following the 2008 takeover by Sheikh Mansour) and then an even bigger one after I left. The club has been totally reshaped since I was there.
“There were only a couple of staff members still there from my time. The kit man was one of them, a physio and a member of the club admin. But that was it.”
Smith has been on the bench for Town’s last two games after Wagner turned to Florent Hadergjonaj at right-back.
Against Pep Guardiola’s men, however, the German is considering changes and Smith is hoping to return as Huddersfield look to add City’s scalp to that of Jose Mourinho’s United.
“I know a lot of City fans because I still live where I have always lived,” he said. “I am a Cheshire boy and my best mate from school is a big City fan, as is his dad.
“As you would expect, they were overjoyed after the Man United game. It didn’t take long for them to get in touch after that win.
“I hear a lot from there, saying things like, ‘We are doing great, Guardiola is a magician’ and all that. They will be there on Sunday, cheering for the opposition.
“There could be some interesting conversations come Monday, either them saying, ‘I told you so’ or something else if we get a result.
“They might not want to talk to me if we win. But I couldn’t care less, so long as we have the three points.”