CITY'S RED DRAGON
Manchester City & Wales
It’s more than seven years since Matt Smith left West Brom’s academy to become a Manchester City player.
A talented cricketer, Smith opted for football when West Brom offered him the chance of joining their youth set-up in 2013 and it wasn’t long before his performances caught the eyes of City scouts.
The Redditch-born teenager was just 14 when City came calling, with Manuel Pellegrini then in charge of first team affairs at the Etihad.
The move north represented an offer few players would refuse, with City crowned Premier League champions for the second time in three years in 2014.
“My family have supported me throughout my life,” recalled Smith.
“I was a bit nervous about moving from West Brom to Manchester as a 14-year-old but my parents encouraged me to do it, knowing that it would be best for me.
“They managed to make it up most weekends to watch me play and that gave me a big lift.
“I was a pretty normal kid, just chilling out and playing on my Xbox to unwind.
“I played quite a lot of sports and I reached a pretty good level in cricket too. I was playing at county level, but cricket was just something I was doing through the summer when I had time.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to commit to football when West Brom asked me to.”
Though born in the Midlands, Smith qualified to play for Wales thanks to his Gwent-born grandfather and so chose to represent The Dragons and after settling into City’s Academy quickly, by 16, he had captained Wales at Under-16 and Under-17 levels.
It would prove to be a wise move for the youngster.
Though Smith impressed for City’s Under-18s, it was decided his football education would be better served in the more combative environment of the Dutch Eerste division and he was loaned out to FC Twente for the 2018/19 campaign.
Smith sparkled during his time in Holland and was rewarded by a first full cap for Wales against Mexico, replacing Derby County’s Tom Lawrence on 81 minutes during a 0-0 draw.
He also played 37 times for FC Twente, helping them win promotion back to the Eredivisie in the process and was a key member of the Dutch outfit’s return to the top flight.
By then 19, Smith admitted the move had been a roll of the dice, but one that had turned out incredibly well.
"It has been really good, everything I wanted in a first loan move," he said in April 2019. We didn't think we could win the title, but we stuck together and we've managed to do it.
"FC Twente is a club that deserves to be at the top level and we are really happy we have got the club back there.
"I knew coming over was a big gamble, especially as there was pressure to win the league.
"Fortunately for me it has gone really well.”
Smith’s progress meant he was offered a three-year contract extension on top of his existing deal with City to June 2023 when he will have been with the Club for close to a decade.
At the time, he said: "I have extended my contract with City and I was obviously delighted to do so. I don't know what the future holds; the key for me is to be playing football at a first team level.
"I don't know what the plan is, but I know how difficult it is to break into the Man City first team. It is something I want to do, but if City think a loan out is the best move that is what I will do.”
The Wales international remained in great demand for the 2020/21 campaign, with several Championship clubs chasing his signature for season-long loan deals, but after chatting with Doncaster Rovers boss Darren Moore, he opted to move to the League One side for a year.
Moore’s reputation for nurturing promising talent was a key factor in Smith’s decision.
On signing for Donny, Smith said: “It’s a great opportunity to come here and play. The gaffer is one of the main reasons I wanted to come and play for this club.
"I’m so excited and over the moon to finally get playing again, the manager’s creating a project here and it’s something I want to be a part of.
"I think it’s a great opportunity to come and play. Even being here for 15 minutes there’s a great feel around the place and I’m delighted to be here.”
Doncaster were as good as their word in regard to giving Smith plenty of game time and he clocked up 43 appearances during his time in South Yorkshire.
Moore’s side looked promotion certainties at one stage, but the manager’s departure to Sheffield Wednesday in March 2021, saw their form dip and eventually they finished 14th, some 10 points off the final play-off berth.
Smith, however, had done enough to impress the Wales selectors and he was chosen for the Euro 2020 squad where he will be keen to add to the 14 caps he has already won.
Now 21, he knows the Euros offer a huge opportunity to show what he is capable of and playing and training alongside such luminaries as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey plus a host of exciting young talent is exactly the chance Smith is looking for – and he is part of Rob Page’s squad on merit.
He’s clocked up 92 appearances during his time out on loan and though he is yet to play for his parent club at senior level, he is very much a Manchester City player and we’ll be covering. Matt’s progress during the tournament – and a good reason to get behind the Welsh when they play…