MY JOUR­NEY DOWN MEM­ORY PAIN

It would have been eas­ier to stop and be re­mem­bered as a top star but my love of it made me play through agony

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - ROBBIE SAVAGE - BY JAMES NURSEY @James­nursey

ALAN SMITH hob­bles ev­ery day he gets out of bed.

It is a le­gacy of 20 years in foot­ball from the Premier League ti­tle and Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal to League Two.

The for­mer Leeds star­let has de­cided his body can­not take any more and re­tired af­ter his most re­cent stint with Notts County on £500-a-week in the fourth tier.

But Smith reck­ons most other pros would have taken that de­ci­sion 12 years ago af­ter his hor­ror in­jury for Manch­ester United at Liver­pool. He was car­ried off in agony with a bro­ken left leg and dis­lo­cated an­kle aged 25 af­ter a chal­lenge with John Arne Ri­ise. Sir Alex Fer­gu­son de­scribed it as one of the worst in­juries he had seen and the star now has “about 10 pins” in his an­kle.

That he played on for so long af­ter, and en­joyed no­table sub­se­quent suc­cesses, tells you ev­ery­thing about Smith’s char­ac­ter and pas­sion for foot­ball.

It was a com­pet­i­tive­ness which he ad­mits some­times got the bet­ter of him and cost him a place at the 2002 World Cup with Eng­land af­ter be­ing sent off in qual­i­fy­ing.

De­spite 19 caps, he never went to a ma­jor tour­na­ment, even af­ter a £7mil­lion move to United in 2004 af­ter his boy­hood club Leeds were rel­e­gated.

But as Smith spoke for the first time about retirement and mov­ing to Amer­ica to coach kids, he had no re­grets and was proud to have played on un­til the end of last term.

Smith, 37, told Mir­ror Sport: “I knew with the in­jury it would be touch and go whether I could carry on play­ing – the sur­geon said that. It would have been eas­ier to walk away but be­cause I loved play­ing foot­ball your love of it makes you go through the pain bar­rier.

“Most of the peo­ple I have played with, and man­agers, have re­spected me for stay­ing in foot­ball when it would have been easy to walk away.

“But I dropped down to the Cham­pi­onship, to League One and to League Two.

“Loads of peo­ple would say to me: ‘Why I am both­er­ing?’

“But if peo­ple felt I could still con­tribute I wanted to keep play­ing. The in­jury made me a bet­ter per­son af­ter do­ing so well so young. I am lucky through sheer grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion I car­ried on.

“The good peo­ple I met lower down the leagues prob­a­bly drove me on to stay in foot­ball longer.

“But by the end, the day-to­day train­ing was do­ing more harm than good. I couldn’t com­pete at a level I felt I could

ALL LEEDS TO UNITED Alan Smith starred at boy­hood club Leeds and it earned him a £7mil­lion move to Old Traf­ford

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