Alan Smith's horrific leg break injury while playing for Man United 17 years ago left him struggling to walk
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Former Manchester United player Alan Smith has admitted that it would have been “easier to walk away” from football after his horrific leg break injury.
Sir Alex Ferguson brought Smith to Old Trafford in 2004 in a £7m deal from Leeds, with the 42-year-old former footballer spending three years at United.
However, Smith’s career took a nightmarish turn after he attempted to block a free-kick from John Arne Riise in United’s fifth-round FA Cup defeat to Liverpool in 2006.
The former England international was rushed to hospital and later underwent surgery on his leg, which left him sidelined as he recovered from his injury.
Speaking to The Daily Mirror, Smith said: “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 and people remember you as a top Premier League player.
“But I didn’t want that, 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, dropped down to League One and dropped down to League Two.
“Loads of people would say to me, ‘Why I am bothering?’ Whether I was earning £500-a-week or nothing, if people felt I could still contributed I wanted to keep playing.”
Smith, who had “about 10 pins” interested in his ankle due to the injury, continued to play on at United before he moved to Newcastle in 2007 for around £6m.
He went on to play for both MK Dons and Notts County before he retired, with Smith claiming he became a “better person” after the injury at United.
“The injury made me a better person after doing so well so young,” Smith explained.
“I learnt at any time, football can be over. I am lucky through sheer grit and determination I carried on playing.
“The good people I met lower down the leagues probably drove me on to stay in football longer.
“But by the end, the day-to-day training was doing more harm than good. I couldn’t compete at a level I felt I could easily before. I get out of bed and can’t walk properly, my ankle is stiff all the time.
“I went for a run in the summer and managed to do a couple of miles but stopped and started walking because my ankle was hurting.
“I went back last month and the surgeon said, ‘I don’t want you doing any straight-line running,’ just because it will damage the joint.
“It is always difficult to walk away but when you see someone and they don’t want you running, you know it is the right decision. I have no regrets, for me I see retiring early being the easy option.”