We chat to Milton Keynes Dons midfielder Alan Smith ahead of the Dons' Round 3 tie with Sunderland
In 2006, after you had to miss the League Cup final against Wigan Athletic with a broken leg, the Manchester United players wore t-shirts with the message ‘For You Smudge’ emblazoned on them when lifting the trophy. How special was that?
It was special without having been there, which is strange. I was at home in my flat just watching the match and thinking that I wish I could have been playing. I didn’t know anything about the t-shirt scenario after the game; that was a total surprise. It was quite a shock and I was a little emotional too I must admit. It was my second season at United and you don’t always realise what kind of impact you have at a place, you just go to work as a normal person and get on with things, so for them to do that meant an awful lot to me. It was lovely.
Did you shed a tear?
I wouldn’t say there was a tear but there was a lump in my throat to be honest. After that moment I was more concerned about whether I would get a winner’s medal or not, which I did, so that was nice. I’d played in the previous rounds and the two semi-finals, so I qualified for a medal and I would have played on the day if I hadn’t been injured. United wanted me to be there at Wembley but I couldn’t as I was still in plaster and it was impractical to do so.
And where do you keep that precious League Cup winners’ medal?
I don’t know, my mum’s got it somewhere. I just wanted it that was all.
Looking ahead to MK Dons’ Third Round tie at home to Sunderland, you must take confidence from knocking out Blackburn Rovers in Round 2?
Yes I think we do. This is a massive game for us, as we want to go as far as possible in the competition. I also believe Martin O’Neill will want to do the same. He has a good record in the League Cup, having won it twice with Leicester City before, so he’ll probably have one eye on going all the way to Wembley.
What would a win in this match mean to MK Dons?
Our main goal is promotion, I think that everyone inside the club knows that we need to get promoted this year. We’ve had the continuity of keeping the squad together and we want to progress as one to the next division. However, if you can have a run in the Capital One Cup as well, playing against good opposition and winning games, then it gives you a boost and we have nothing to lose going into this match.
You’ve played against Martin O’Neill teams many times in the past. What’s it like to face his sides?
They are always very well set up, very well organised and tough to play against. When he was at Leicester he often played with three at the back and he’s since changed that a bit, going with 4-4-2 at Sunderland. These days more and more teams are diligent in the way that they play with an emphasis on making sure you don’t concede the first goal. It will probably be the same in this tie.
You might come up against Lee Cattermole – and that’s a combative battle in the making?
Yes, I know Catts quite well, and have played against him a few times. He’s a competitor. He’s always been a 100 per cent player. When it comes to his tough tackling, you’re talking about inches and millimetres and that half a second can make a difference to how a tackle looks. As for this game, I don’t think you’ll see any love lost between us.
As an ex-Newcastle United man, do you think you’ll get some stick from Sunderland fans?
Probably yes. I don’t mind that, though. I get used to it, as I get stick everywhere I go. I don’t always know why but I love it really.
Are you enjoying life as an MK Dons player?
Yes. I’ve enjoyed it ever since I first came last January. The football side is totally different from what I’ve been accustomed to in terms of the pressure and coverage, and from the outside looking in you’d think it was all totally relaxed – which it is at the right times – but there’s still that professional focus which is totally necessary if you want to achieve.
The manager Karl Robinson has had chances to leave but he’s stayed because he firmly believes in the long term prospects of the MK Dons. Do you feel the same?
Most of the lads in our dressing room have had an opportunity to play at a higher level for a different club and Karl himself could have done, but that’s the beauty of it. All the lads who are here really want to be here to try and achieve something. It’s not just a football club, it’s a place where everyone around the place is wishing, and hoping, and pulling together to try and achieve that goal of getting promotion to the npower Championship.
What’s it like to partner up with new signing Jimmy Bullard in the heart of the MK Dons midfield?
Jimmy’s great to have around the place. The main thing is that he adds to what we’ve got in terms of his football ability which speaks for itself. It’s what most players are judged upon but he’s also a character, of course. People enjoy being here at MK Dons, spending time with their team-mates. For nine months of the year these are the people you see more than anyone else and it’s good that we have that relationship, where we’re all close mates.
And another larger than life character Ian Wright is part of the coaching staff too. What’s he like to work with?
Wrighty’s good! People might look at him and Jimmy and think it must be all fun at MK Dons but, when you strip it down, Wrighty is here for a reason and that’s to try and help us from a forward and attacking perspective, using his experience. We do have a laugh at the right times and it is fun to be here but there’s also a collective goal and that’s to make sure that when it really matters everything is done properly and for a reason.
Now that you’re a defensive midfielder, do you miss the glory that comes with being a striker?
I don’t miss the glory of it but I do miss playing up there sometimes because you have a direct battle with someone. I played up front a few times last year and enjoyed it, and scored a couple too which was nice, so you never know I might be needed up there again at some point which I’d be happy to do.