Richard Sutcliffe: Why Smith was right to make move to Manchester United

I LIKE Alan Smith. There, I’ve said it. I do.

In Leeds, admitting such a thing can be tantamount to self-imposed social quarantine due to many Elland Road regulars simply refusing to look beyond the one-time England international’s move to Manchester United in 2004.

At the time, the Leeds fans vented their anger by chanting ‘If you sign for scum, you don’t come back’ during the final game of the season at Chelsea and, almost eight years down the line, it seems little has changed.

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That much was brought home to this correspondent last season when then Leeds manager Simon Grayson confirmed attempts were under way to bring Smith back to the club where it had all begun as a teenager with ‘that’ debut goal against Liverpool.

Not only was my e-mail inbox quickly jammed to overflowing with messages stating in no uncertain terms that Smith was not welcome back at Elland Road but a couple of supporters even rang up to vent their fury.

Time had clearly not been a good healer.

What those hard-core critics refuse to acknowledge, however, is that without the £6m fee that Sir Alex Ferguson paid for Smith there is every chance Leeds would not have been able to limp on to the following January when Ken Bates came in to take charge.

Other clubs were interested in the striker, including Newcastle United and Everton plus a couple from abroad.

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But no-one apart from Ferguson was willing to pay the entire fee in one instalment, which, at a time when Leeds were living a hand-to-mouth existence, was crucial.

The chance to join a title-challenging club playing Champions League football every year must also have been one that was hard to pass up, a point that Dominic Matteo acknowledged last year in his autobiography, In My Defence.

I was Dom’s ghost-writer and during our sessions for the book we discussed at length the way Leeds supporters had turned against his former team-mate, the most pertinent point made by the Leeds defender being: “If Manchester United come knocking after you have just been relegated then there is only one decision to make. You have to go.

“I know to this day some supporters won’t accept that but, for what it’s worth, I don’t think any of the other lads would have made a different decision to Smithy’s when he signed for Manchester United.”

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Another point that many choose to overlook when it comes to Smith is that there was no prouder player during his time in a white shirt.

He also cared, which was definitely not something that could be said about too many at Elland Road during the season that ended in relegation from the Premier League.

This much was evident not only in his displays on the field, but also on one trip away with England when he chose the mixed zone after a game in Sweden to rip into his team-mates.

“There have been too many games this season when we’ve just rolled over and accepted defeat,” was Smith’s verdict to the English press. “We’ve lost by four goals to Everton and Birmingham and by six at Portsmouth.

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“There’s no way we should be losing to those teams like that.”

The comments may not have pleased the dressing room but they certainly struck a chord with the Elland Road faithful back home, underlining that, deep down, Smith really was one of them after all.

It is why I, for one, hope the move to MK Dons works out as Smith deserves a change of luck following the broken leg that effectively brought an end to his time at Old Trafford.