Elland Road starlet could be their next Alan Smith
Following just three seasons in the Premier League, Leeds United have been thrust back into the second tier amid what was a dismal 2022/23 campaign, with it already proving a difficult start to life back in the Championship for Daniel Farke’s side.
Such woes are a far cry from the success that the Yorkshire giants endured in the early 2000s, with David O’Leary notably guiding the club to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001, following a respectable third-place league finish the year prior.
While that glittering period was brought crashing to a halt by the club’s subsequent financial setbacks – resulting in their drop out of the top tier – it remains a time that is fondly remembered by Whites supporters, particular for the stellar crop of talent that graced Elland Road at the time, including the likes of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell.
That O’Leary era also saw the rise of an exciting gem from the academy in the form of Alan Smith, with Farke likely hoping he can unearth another diamond from the youth set-up in the near future…
How good was Alan Smith for Leeds?
Despite having somewhat burned his bridges with the club after joining rivals Manchester United in the summer of 2004, the now-retired ace had thrived after rising up the ranks at Leeds prior to that, notably scoring on his first-team debut away at Anfield in 1998.
The then-teenager would ultimately go on to play a vital role under O’Leary over the next few years despite his relative youth, with the versatile attacker – who could feature through the middle, on the flanks or in midfield – scoring 54 goals in 224 appearances in all competitions for the club.
Aside from his devastating attacking threat and positional flexibility, what also initially endeared Smith to the Leeds crowd was his work-man-like nature and energetic, all-action style, having notably been lauded for those traits by O’Leary following the quarter-final clash with Deportivo La Coruna in 2001:
“Alan Smith was without a doubt the man of the match. He was incredible. He trod every bit of grass, he was unbelievable. I hope people realise he’s still only 20 years old and give him chance to learn and grow. We are very lucky to have him at Leeds United because he loves playing for the club. He’s a winner.”
Finding such talents in the youth ranks is not a common occurrence, although current boss Farke could well be able to find a suitable heir to the 42-year-old, in the form of exciting forward, Sean McGurk.
Who is Sean McGurk?
The 20-year-old attacker – who can operate out wide or in a number ten berth – has caught the eye in Yorkshire ever since joining from Wigan Athletic back in the summer of 2021, scoring nine times and registering five assists in 44 games at U21 level thus far.
A player with a “big personality to go with his ability” – according to Yorkshire Evening Post journalist Graham Smyth – the young Englishman has enjoyed a particularly impressive start to the new campaign, scoring three goals and providing one assist from just four Premier League 2 outings.
As Smyth also stated, there is a “lot to like” about the emerging sensation, with the player himself speaking about his “exciting” attributes upon his arrival at the club just over two years ago:
“People describe me as a player who is quite exciting, I like to create goals and score goals and I think that is the strongest part of my game.”
The forward’s goalscoring threat was also evident during his prior stint with the Latics as he netted three times in just five games for the club’s U18 side, notably scoring a late winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford – a strong way to endear himself to his current side.
Although a chance at first-team level has yet to emerge for the former Wigan man, Farke would be wise to put his faith in the creative gem as the season progresses, particularly after losing the likes of Luis Sinisterra and Jack Harrison this summer.
As was evident with the case of Smith, it can be incredibly rewarding seeing an academy talent blossom into a star in the senior set-up, with McGurk seemingly having the tools to be able to follow in the footsteps of the former England international.
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