Leeds United nostalgia: When Smith and Whites had Sven’s mighty Lazio on run

Alan Smith turns to celebrate his goal against Lazio in the Olympic stadium, Rome.
Alan Smith turns to celebrate his goal against Lazio in the Olympic stadium, Rome.
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It’s been another tough week at Leeds United. Dave Craven looks back to a happier night in the club’s history.

AT the end of another tumultuous week in the soap opera world of Leeds United, it is easier to recollect the far more pleasant drama occurring in their ranks at this time more than a decade ago.

Although current proprietor Massimo Cellino was told last Monday he had failed the Football League’s owners and directors’ test, thus throwing the West Yorkshire club’s future into crisis once more, Friday marked the 14th anniversary of one of the most memorable evenings in their long history.

Ironically, it also occurred in the Italian’s homeland as Leeds, enjoying a campaign of such verve and adventure having reached the Champions League, brought the mighty Lazio to their knees in Rome.

Some of the names on show for the Serie A title-holders that night at the Olympic Stadium read like a who’s who of world football – Nedved, Ravenelli, Simeone, Veron, Lombardo, Crespo and Salas, the list goes on.

Yet, both individually and collectively, they had no answer to the quality that Leeds brought to the contest.

Instead, Alan Smith, the local lad from Rothwell, aged just 20 and full of all the youthful exuberance, energy and confidence you would expect from a striker making his way in the game, arrived to settle the contest in the 80th minute.

He benefitted from some brilliance from his always insouciant strike partner Mark Viduka to take the points on a famous Leeds United night.

Few would have thought it possible, having seen United outclassed 4-0 at Barcelona earlier in the season and, in the European game prior to this, being over-run by Real Madrid at Elland Road. However, David O’Leary’s squad had also shown their ability in forcing draws with AC Milan (1-1) and Barcelona (1-1) on home soil and, with Olivier Dacourt masterful and controlling central midfield, proved well worth their win against Lazio.

Of course, the Whites went on to actually reach the semi-finals before missing out to Valencia while that game proved to be one of Sven Goran Eriksson’s final matches in charge of Lazio

Under pressure after failing to reach the last eight, he quit to become England’s first foreign manager, taking over from Kevin Keegan. Clearly aware of Smith’s potential, Erikkson awarded the player his England debut against Mexico the following May and he went on to play 19 games for his country, scoring just once.

Smith moved to arch-rivals Manchester United for £7m in 2004 following Leeds’ relegation and, though he won the Premier League three years later, was never the same player after suffering a badly broken leg while playing against Liverpoolin 2006.

Now 34, he is player-coach at Notts County in League One, where another United old boy, Shaun Derry is manager.