Alan Smith football

Alan Smith: Fernandes is the Worthy Manchester United Captain

Former United star Alan Smith heaps praise on the United Bruno Fernandes, and how he wants more from his players

Following United’s 3-0 win over West Ham, spoke with former United legend Alan Smith, who gave his thoughts on the current United crop, including why Højlund has all the attributes to become a great United no.9 and only expects him to get better and better with his confidence growing.

Smith, passionate on the pitch himself, stated that Martinez’s passion on the pitch is all that fans want to see and described the World Cup winner as a real winner within the United ranks, and someone who would ‘run through a brick wall for you’. Whilst calling Martinez a leader, he believes that Fernandes is the only player worthy of the United captaincy and whilst people think he waves his arms, all he wants is more from his teammates.

Smith also spoke of former MK Dons teammate Dele Alli, comparing him in his prime to having the ability of Jude Bellingham today, and still has high hopes of Dele getting back to his former glory when he was the first name on the England team-sheet.

On Højlund developing into a ‘Great No 9’ for United

I think Højlund is going to get better and better. It’s difficult for him to lead the line and play as a single striker on his own at the minute, but he will develop into a great number 9 for United. Just having a little bit of time will help him. The team obviously hasn’t hit the ground running and it was a difficult period when he came in, but I think he’s starting to get the rewards and scoring the goal has helped him.

I just feel that he has all the attributes to be a really good centre forward; he’s quick, he holds the ball up well – there’s a lot of positives for him but it hasn’t been easy, because the team hasn’t been playing as well as possible, but there have been sparks where you have seen the quality that he’s got. The more confidence he gets, the better he will become.

Fernandes is the one player worthy of being United’s Captain

Fernandes will always take the ball in difficult situations, and yet people look at him as he’s not a captain in a certain way, he moans at people a lot – in his situation, he’s probably just as frustrated as anybody else, and wants the team to do better and push on. He always wants to take the ball and

that shows a certain type of person. When you look around the dressing room for who is going to play, he’s fit for nearly every single game. He drives the team forward. He might get frustrated and annoyed, but he probably just wants more for the team, and he’s trying to do so much that this is what happens. He gets frustrated in certain situations but when you look round, he is the one player who should be captain.

Martinez is a ‘Real Winner’

You look at the personnel – I think having Martinez coming back is great, because he looks like a real winner and a leader in the dressing room. The signing of players personality-wise was something that Sir Alex looked at in depth, in terms of their character, not just their ability – ability can be measured in many different ways. To play for Man United, the scrutiny is still there, regardless of them not winning the Premier League for however many years. It’s still probably the biggest scrutiny in football. Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona – they’re probably the three that get scrutinised the most. It takes a certain type of person to embrace that.

Fans are crying out for Martinez’s visible passion

Martinez carries that intensity and that determination – it might not be different to anybody else, but visually he always looks like the type of player that would run through a brick wall for you. He’s the type of player that a fan can relate to and that’s what it takes to have a good connection. When you play, all the fans want to see is you doing what they would do in terms of effort and commitment. If they seeing you doing everything possible, you might not be good enough or struggle at times, they’ll forgive you – and that is all Man United fans want to see.

On standards dropping due to turnover of players

I like listening to Gary and Roy on The Overlap, and Jaap Stam was on there speaking about when he first went to Man United. The lads in that dressing room had all grown together, so it was a very close-knit community of people and big characters. Keane was a huge character, but so were Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville in a completely different way. I’m sure before that Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and the likes, so you had a history of people learning the standards from the predecessors of what playing for Man United is.

Maintaining the standards of the club when you’ve got such a vast turnover of players is quite difficult to do. There’s no commitment, and the desire and hunger and the pride of playing for any professional club should be a given for any player. I’ve got no doubt that every player tries their best every time they play, but the shirt is heavy at times. That Man United shirt can be heavy if it’s not going well. And it takes a certain type of character to make sure that everyone embraces that challenge and having teammates that are going to embrace that challenge with you.

United used have the biggest personalities

When I signed for Sir Alex in the summer of 2004, he said that he had been watching me for four years from when I first started playing, just to see what I was like, my personality, how I dealt with adversity, how loyal you are to your team. All these traits that I feel every Man United player used to have to have.

To play for the biggest club, you have to have the biggest personalities. You need an inner strength of character for when times get tough, that you’ll be consistent and reliable, day-in day-out in training 350 days a year. You have to have the desire, passion and hunger to go in there and give everyone a lift every day. You need strong people that are good in the dressing room. People were happy to play one game every four weeks, and when they came into the team, it wasn’t like they hadn’t been playing, it was an amazing thing. It’s difficult to replicate that.

People care about too much about style over points

There’s scrutiny over the performance rather than the results because of how much media is involved in the game, and it was never like that. No-one used to remember how well you played, just how many points you got and if you won a trophy at the end of the season. No-one cared.

Man City’s worst performance of last season was the Champions League final, but no one cared and that’s what I’d relate back to – you want to win and in a certain way, but I’ve never come away thinking ‘that was amazing, we lost today’, regardless how well you’ve played.

There’s a stigma now that everyone must play like Guardiola, but for me there’s no reason for that to be the scenario or an actual remit for any club. For any club and any fans to enjoy it, you’ve got to be winning.

On hoping Dele gets back to the Bellingham-levels of his early playing days

You hope that any player can get back when they have had those kinds of struggles. When we were at MK Dons, we were all aware of his background and situation – not the mental health – but the understanding of dynamic with his parents that Karl Robinson and myself were always aware of. He lived with a great family at MK Dons who looked after him so well.

It’s always difficult when someone gets to a certain age and he left to go to Tottenham and you can’t stay under the guidance of someone so long when you become an adult – we speak about it at the school, whether that’s a little bit younger here when they can start to drive and they have their own freedom, and they start to make their own choices on do they want to go to college and play or do they want to be a professional.

At MK we were such a small-knit community that we could look after him as much as possible as everything was structured, and we knew everything that was going on. As soon as he went to Tottenham he moved in on his own and he became an adult, and it becomes your own choices and your own decisions.

I think everyone involved in football always hates to see anyone struggling from a mental health aspect, when they’re not enjoying the game or want to give up on the game that he’s naturally so good at. Everybody will have the best wishes for him, and we all want to see him back playing and back to where he was previously when he was probably a regular and a first name on the team-sheet for England.

You look at Jude Bellingham now, and it was very similar to what Dele was capable of, so everyone has nothing but the best wishes for Dele going forward.

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