Alan Smith talks of the extraordinarily talented Pogba, and what a shame the current situation is.
Alan Smith talks of the extraordinarily talented Pogba, and what a shame the current situation is
Ahead of the return of the Premier League, Offers.Bet spoke to former Manchester United, Leeds United and Newcastle United striker turned midfielder, Alan Smith. Smith spoke around a variety of topics, including that United crying out for a player like Declan Rice, and why he is so impressed by the ever-adaptable Cristiano Ronaldo.
Smith also suggested that Leeds will be avoid relegation come the end of the season, but that it’s a much tougher call if Newcastle will avoid the drop. Smith also heaped praise on former MK Dons teammate Dele Alli, and that he believes Frank Lampard is just the man to get Alli back to playing at his best, and that he hopes Dele will rediscover his love for playing football with complete freedom.
United didn’t bring anyone in over the transfer window – are you surprised by that? Or do you think United want to see what happens with a permanent manager and bringing in players that suit the manager’s philosophy?
I think there’s been a lot of change at United recently with the new interim manager and whatever his role is going to be after this season – I still think people are unclear on what that may be. There’s been talk of him staying on as manager. I don’t think everyone would be surprised by the lack of signings as the squad is what they will have been looking at, seeing who the new manager wanted to keep and who was surplus to requirements. They’re in a transition and have been for a number of years unfortunately. Getting the players out was probably the main thing, and assessing the players that they’ve got before just going and spending money on somebody who might not fit what the manager at this time wants, or a new coach coming in might want.
Who do you think should be the United manager?
It’s a difficult one to pinpoint, but I think there’s something not quite right within the club. I know inside the club that there’s people that speak about it and I watch the lads on Sky and listen to podcasts on what people think or know is going on, on the inside, and I think that’s probably a bigger problem that people might see. Because the talent in the squad is there. When you look round, player for player, they’ve got a squad that should be doing much better than they are right now, and I think that’s the frustration for most supporters. I think they look round and see that the squad is good, but is it filled with people of the right mentality?
That is what Man United for me is all about. Not necessarily people who have all the skill and the high profile players – players at United create their own profile through their performances. That’s what people want to start seeing from the big players. I think that sporadically we’ve seen it but the inconsistency, and the feeling or uneasiness or discontent of players not being happy to work hard and do the right things for Man United – that’s the only thing, that’s what people want to see.
Frank Lampard’s interview when he took over at Everton summed it up well, and I don’t think any football club is different. First and foremost, you expect people to work hard for the club that they’re playing for, to give the maximum that they can give. And that’s the most disappointing thing at Man United at the minute, that they don’t look like a team, they don’t look like they’re playing for each-other, they don’t look like they’re playing for the club – that might not be true, but that’s what people see. That’s what comes off in some of the performances, that the players aren’t that interested. I don’t think that is the case, but I think that’s how it is perceived from the outside a lot of the time.
United fans loved players like yourself or a Roy Keane because you’d put in a tackle to get the whole crowd going. Are United seemingly lacking that big personality in the team?
I’d hope they’d have their big personalities, you’d think they would in the dressing room with the amount of experienced players they’ve got. I think long-term you’d hope the club can get some stability, but for a number of years they’ve just tried throwing the cheque-book at it. Man United used to sign big players now and again, but they always consistently had players in the dressing room that demanded from everybody else, and that might be something that they’re looking for.
There were certain players that might not have come across like that, but still their demands in training, their performances – even the players that might not be standout players – still all had the same mentality and the same drive to improve and be improved by everybody else. I think that might be what people are looking for. Who are the players that are going to step up, be more vocal, say certain things, drive certain players on?
I read something about Brian Robson saying that Robson was the best midfield player at the world when he was at United, but he didn’t leave saying I’m the best midfield player in the world and I want to go and win trophies somewhere else, he said I want to win trophies at Man United. I think that’s been a change over the years, people who are loyal and want to do well and have success at that club, they don’t just want to have success at any club, they want to have success at the club that they’re at.
Would Declan Rice be a big piece of the puzzle that United are holding out for?
I think Declan Rice’s performances for West Ham have been outstanding, and this season he has pushed on again. Since the EUROS, he’s grown in stature and grown in confidence. He’s a player that is continually linked with a lot of clubs, but he would definitely be an interesting signing for United.
There are other players that are spoken about, but I think getting people off the wage bill was a bigger thing for them, and then to re-build with players that the manager or new manager and the club collectively want. If they’re going to bring in four or five players and then appoint a new manager, it would seem to be a bit of a waste.
One player who has made the switch is Donny Van De Beek to Everton – do you think it’s a good move for both himself and Everton? Do you think he can come back to United at the end of the season and play a big part, after getting good game time?
It’s a difficult one as we’ve not really seen anything of Van De Beek. He came with a big reputation but the Premier League is different to most other leagues, and when I was playing people would be given a couple of years if they came from another league, just because of how different the Premier League was, so I think it will be great for him to go there and get game time. And fair play to him, he wants to get himself out there and show what he’s about, to show how good he is. And I’m sure that going out on loan until the end of the season, he will have a point to prove, and if he does well there I’m sure that there will be the opportunity to go back to Man United In pre-season.
Jesse Lingard seemed to be on his way, and was told that he could leave for either Newcastle or West Ham, with a last minute change of heart to keep him at the club. Does Lingard deserve a move and regular football somewhere else? He’s had no game time with United, and clearly proved himself when he went to West Ham and when he has played this year.
I’m sure that Jesse would want to stay at United and force his way into the team, or at least into the squad every week. For any player, and I’ve been there myself, leaving Man United is tough because of the stature of the club, wherever you go you will always feel like you’re dropping down.
I think he surprised a lot of people when he went to West Ham, just how good he was. He surprised people with his performances, and I think that tells you how difficult and exactly what the demands at Manchester United are. He went there and he set the world alight at West Ham and came back to Man United hoping to bridge that gap and get into the team, but it’s not quite happened for him.
We don’t know the conversation that has happened with the coach, but only Jesse himself will himself know whether he really wanted to leave, because there’s a big difference between someone saying you can leave and the player actually wanting to leave.
Martial going out on loan might free up more opportunities for Sancho – do you think he simply needs a run of games to prove just how good he is?
I think the difficulty going to Man United is that people feel they have to show how good they are, but I think it’s actually the opposite; you need to show the commitment and the hunger to improve, as he obviously is doing. With young players, you get inconsistency – that’s only natural. And he will also need the support of experienced players to help him along, and he’s got certain players around him at the club that he needs to look to in order to keep improving, and I’m sure that is what he’s trying to do.
When Cristiano first came, it took him time to get used to the league – the pace of it, the physicality, getting kicked all the time, that kind of learning curve. You’ve always got to try and learn from your experienced players, as there’s a reason that they’ve been around for so long, and they will expect and demand off other people. He’s been given a run of games now, and I think that consistency will come now he’s feeling a bit more settled.
How good has Ronaldo been this season, and how good has it been for the club to have Ronaldo back?
I think everybody knew that he wasn’t going to be the Ronaldo of old but as a goal-scorer, his record still speaks for itself. That’s the adaptation that he has made over the last four or five years through understanding his own body and his own role, and finding himself as an out-and-out centre forward and goal poacher. I think for any club if you can find someone to get you 20 goals in a season, they’re a real asset to you.
People speak about age, but if he still keeps scoring, then that is the only thing that is matters.
There’s still so much uncertainty with Paul Pogba and his contract finishing in summer; do you think it’s time for him to move on?
I think it has always been a difficult one with Pogba, and it divides a lot of people because he is so talented, and that is the frustration that we all feel because his talent is undeniable. It’s so difficult when you have someone who is so talented, who can be a match winner, your best player when he choses to be, and that’s the frustration that a lot of people have with him.
Everyone can suffer with their confidence, no matter how you look and seem. If you’re struggling, you’re struggling, no matter who you are. There will have been times that he was struggling with confidence, even though it might not look like it to a lot of people. How people carry themselves can be completely different to someone else when they lack confidence, and it’s hard to assess someone else and what they’re going through.
I think the whole situation is a massive shame as he’s such a talented player, and a player that a lot of players like to play with and a lot of people like to watch. When he’s on, there’s no one better. The things that he can do with a football, his range of passing, how he can run a game by himself if he wants to. But that is where the frustration lies with the inconsistency, and people want to see that appetite week in, week out. It’s a shame.
Everton had a huge day not only with Van De Beek, but also Dele Alli – how do you rate Dele as a player and is he worth the 40million fee paid?
I was with Dele at MK Dons when we gave him his debut, and he’s a talented boy. I don’t know what’s happened since he went to Tottenham and the last couple of years, but he’s definitely got all of the attributes to get him back to where he wants to be. When were at MK Dons, he played as a box-to-box midfielder and played with freedom and just enjoyed the game and I’d like to see him go back to that.
He looks like he’s playing with a little bit of trepidation and a lack of confidence, which happens to most players. I’d love to see him do well at Everton, and he’s playing under one of the best box-to-box midfielders that we have seen, under the stewardship of Frank Lampard, and I’m sure that Everton will be hoping that he brings out the best of Dele as well.
You mentioned that you like what Arteta is doing at Arsenal – do you think that he’s right to let Aubameyang go to Barcelona if he doesn’t fit into the ethos that Mikel is building at Arsenal?
Definitely. I think it’s brave of Arteta but it also shows that he is backing himself, because whatever has happened has happened and it’s gone, and he’s sticking to his guns. I think the big thing is that now if others step out of line or if they don’t respect the club, then it will be time to move on. I think that a lot of people talk about ‘player power’, but hopefully there will be a mentality shift and that the players aren’t always the most powerful, which might help in the long-run.
Arsenal were always a team when I played against them that had absolutely everything. The talent, the character, the mentality. The Arsenal Invincibles team was probably one of the best teams that we are ever likely to see, and that was built on a foundation of strong characters, combined with world class players. I think that is what Arteta is looking at – they were all strong characters, they were all the right type of personnel, and that’s what he is trying to emulate now. Especially as Arteta was the captain of the club, and he knows you have to lead by example. By making the move to let Aubameyang go, it sets the precedent for everyone else.
Newcastle have done some shrew business – do you think they will stay up this season?
It’s going to be tight. Player for player, you look at Newcastle and think they shouldn’t be in the situation that they are in, but they are. I’m sure Eddie Howe is looking at the character of players he has brought in as well as their talent, because it takes a certain type of person to help get you out of these situations, to be willing to go there to help fight and get Newcastle out of the situation that they’re in.
It will be close and I’m sure all of the other clubs down there are thinking exactly the same thing. I imagine that it’s going to go right to the wire, and it’s going to be interesting viewing, as there are a lot of big clubs looking to stay in the Premier League. It’s obviously so financially rewarding, and makes it a necessity for people to stay in the Premier League.
Leeds have been in a bit of freefall of late – what’s going wrong there and what do they need to do to turn it around?
I just think it’s the injuries to key players. Marcelo has never been a manager who likes to change his players, even if they have played 30 odd games in the year, he will still try and play the same team. He likes that consistency. I think that’s one thing that has been against him this season, that he’s not been able to do that. And those injuries have been to a lot of their key players, their key performers who have been injured for long periods of time, and that’s been the biggest difficulty. And the second season is always tough!
Raphina has been a shining light for Leeds – are you surprised that none of the sides at the top end of the table made a move for him?
There has been talk of it and I’m not sure if other clubs are waiting for the summer, but Raphina has done really well. He’s a really good player and I hope that he can make sure that he keeps us up before he does decide to move on.
I think Leeds will be okay, and they’ve got enough. There are going to be times where it gets closer for a lot of teams, but I think they will be able to pick up enough points over time to stay up.