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Alan Smith Exclusive: Newcastle should sign Leao, Man U should sign Characters 

Former Leeds, Newcastle and Man U legend Alan Smith talks through the transfer window, and why Man U need to take caution with the approach for Palace’s Olise 

With the January Transfer Window in full flow, BritishGambler sat down with Alan Smith to talk through his current assessment of his former teams. Smith urged United to approach the transfer window with caution, and to not repeat the same mistake of signing Zaha when looking at Olise.  

Smith went on to talk about Rafael Leao being a great potential signing for Newcastle, and that he could follow Ginola and Lauren Robert in their history of flying wingers, and would be a firm fan favourite on Tyneside. 

Smith also revealed that he turned down Sir Alex Ferguson in the January transfer window 20 years ago, and that he presumed his Man U career was dead in the water before it had even begun, but that it was his commitment and desire to try and keep Leeds up that saw him get a move to Old Trafford that summer. 

On United v Newport 

They were on a hiding to nothing really. They started brightly and then it seems to be a little bit of a trend unfortunately over longer than just this season, where they seem to go back into easy mode where it looks as though the job is done, and then a goal out of nowhere with the deflection, and it becomes a difficult tie based on Newport have nothing to lose. 

When people look at it, it looks as though it should be a forgone conclusion a tie like that but having played in those games, they’re a lot more difficult to play in than on paper. The big thing was just to get out of there with a victory. I’m sure there will be scrutiny on the performance and everything else but at the end of the day, they won the game. 

On Ferguson’s January approach to sign him, 20 years ago 

It was very simple and straightforward realistically. They came in for me in the January transfer window when I was at Leeds and we were bottom of the league. I spoke to representative and said that I can’t leave Leeds halfway through a season because I want to try and keep Leeds up and whatever happens from there, happens. 

They went on to sign Louis Saha from Fulham, so I thought it was any chance of him signing me in future was dead in the water. But I knew I had to stay in the January, because of the situation that Leeds were in. Then in the summer, it transpired that Diego Forlan was leaving to go to Villareal, so they re-approached, and I think that one of the main reasons Fergie wanted to sign me was because I wanted to stay at Leeds even if it meant that move might not happen. It was a loyalty to my team that were bottom that I wanted to try to keep in the Premier League. 

United shouldn’t bring in Michael Olise 

I feel like I wouldn’t be rushing into anything at this moment in time. That’s where United have been over the last few years with their recruitment policy. This again might be ‘are we jumping in because we need something?’ 

 
For Man United not to get Champions League this year, everyone will see as a big problem, but if you’re gonna rebuild, make sure that the structure is correct and you’re buying the correct personnel. We aren’t just buying someone for this transfer window, we are buying them for five years. 

It might sound like we are giving up this season, but we can’t just keep throwing money at it and see if it works, and that has never been the Man United way. 

On the comparison between signing Olise and Zaha 

I think regardless of who they are, it needs to the right fit – do the characteristics fit. Are we going down the same route as the signing of Wilfried Zaha? There’s a huge difference between playing for Crystal Palace and Man United and sometimes if you’ve not done the research on the player’s personality, you’re taking a chance on anybody coming to Man United. 

Have they played at a huge club? Have they played at a club that demands the same expectations as Man United? That’s where the short-term of going do we just sign someone because we need somebody, instead of signing someone for the future of the club. 

Playing at a big club has to be the remit. Playing at a club with the same standards. Going back to my own understanding of it, I signed from Leeds United which was very similar – not had the recent success but the standards and expectations we had in the 90s were the standards and expectations set by the team in the 70s, the best team in Europe. That kind of standard of club and people you associate yourself with is what people look at.  

I was brought up by Eddie Gray, and his son Stuart unfortunately passed away at the weekend – Eddie was probably the biggest influence on my career and the only reason that I signed for Man United was because of his relationship with Sir Alex and the connection through British football. He knew the standards of what Eddie would set, and it would meet the expectation of what United would set. 

On Marcus Rashford’s situation 

It’s disappointing if anything comes out that’s not football related. He’s one of the most talented players in the country and he was so good last year. For me, he should have built on that. He scored 25 goals last season, he should be scoring 30 goals this season, 35 goals next season. That’s how it should be, and how he should approach it. To score 25 goals and then go back to slacking off if that’s what he’s done and not turned up for training – not just Marcus Rashford, but any young player. 

The mentality should be ‘how do I keep improving every year?’ and I didn’t experience anything like that when I was at Man United, because players would win trophies and would want to win another one the year after, and that is just the history of the club. It should be built into you as a person and part of your character. 

On fans just want to hear that you work hard off the pitch and work hard on the pitch 

Absolutely. I feel like that’s all any supporter wants, someone that works hard on and off the pitch. I feel like that’s why players like Paul Scholes don’t get the credit they deserve, because they were never in the limelight away from football, but that is unfortunately the world that we live in now. If you don’t have social media, people don’t see you as a great player because you’re not putting yourself out there, but for me the best players are the ones that play week-in week-out and don’t need anyone to speak about anything other than their football. As a manager, that’s what you’d want – players that just want to play football. 

I must post on social media when it goes well or apologise when it doesn’t go too well – celebrating in a dressing room when they’ve won one game like it’s the World Cup. These types of things have crept into everywhere. If you were in charge of a club, banning social media full stop would be a good place to start. 

Newcastle v Luton tomorrow night – Prediction 

Absolutely. I think The Champions League has been a big thing for them this season and they’ve had a lot of injuries, as well as financial restraints with the FIFA fair play. I think Eddie Howe is still doing a great job and has a great relationship with the fans and hopefully they’ll get through that tricky spell and an pick up the three points. I will go 3-1 to Newcastle. 
 
Luton aren’t an easy side to play against so full credit to them. They were probably the least expected team to stay up of the teams that came up, and they’ve given themselves a fighting chance going into February. 

On Almiron to Saudi – and wanting to see him stay at Newcastle 

Yeah, I saw Eddie Howe’s interview saying I wish the transfer window would shut now! He’s probably just hoping to not lose any of the players that he’s got because I’m sure he’s stretched any way because of the Champions League and now having injuries, so I’m sure it’s the worst time for a manger where you could lose one of your players, especially one that they’re desperate to keep hold of. 

On Newcastle trying to sign Rafael Leao 

I think there’s a certain type of player they like up in Newcastle like Ginola, Laurent Robert, this type of flying wingers, so I think he’d fit the bill for Newcastle fans, he’d certainly get them up on their feet. He’s very physical and quick and he’d certainly fit the bill for Newcastle, just whether they are able to get him which will be based around the financial implications of what’s going on there.  

On Newcastle and Man U’s chances of Top 4 

I think it will be difficult of either Man U or Newcastle to get Top Four given the positions that they’re in at the minute, but I also feel if they can get consistency of players and team, as both clubs have been missing big players, then I’m sure one of them might be thinking, or might make it. Both ownership groups will be thinking our teams need to be Champions League teams, even though both teams will be safe whether they make it or not, but from a fan point of view and with fair play, being in the Champions League will make a hell of a difference. 

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