WALES and Manchester City midfielder Matt Smith says he is more than ready to spend another season playing abroad if that guarantees him first team football.
In a revealing interview for S4C football show Mwy o Sgorio tonight (Wednesday, 10pm), the Redditch-born teenager, who qualifies for Wales through his Welsh grandfather, dismisses all the press talk that he should not be playing for the Wales team and is adamant he IS Welsh.
Smith joined Dutch club FC Twente on loan at the beginning of the 2018/19 season and made a huge impression with the club in their successful campaign for an instant return to the country’s top flight after relegation the previous season.
Smith said: “It has been a perfect first season for me in professional football. I think this season has really moulded me into a man – I don’t think I would’ve got my opportunities with Wales if I wasn’t playing first team football.”
The 19-year-old recently signed a four-year extension on his contract with the Premier League champions, but says he is open to another season playing abroad, knowing he faces huge competition for a place in Pep Guardiola’s first team at the present time.
“I assume that if I don’t get any opportunities at Man City that it will be another loan. I’m not sure where but I’m open to going abroad again. If there are options in England then I’ll try and back myself to do that as well, so it’s just waiting,” said Smith.
“Will I break into the first team at Man City? I don’t know because it’s a very difficult thing to do and the resources Man City have are phenomenal. Sometimes I’ve got to be a bit realistic with what I can do with my career.
“It would be fantastic if I could break in, they’re a wonderful team, but I also know that if I don’t I can’t let that affect me, I’ve got to keep working hard and go on my path as a footballer.”
He says he has never had any doubts in his mind that playing for Wales was the right thing for him both professionally as a player and personally.
“When I came in at the under 16 level, there were a lot of English-born players playing for Wales but they kind of brought them in as if they were just Welsh. I always say I’m just Welsh. Since I was 16, I’ve been Welsh, so I am Welsh, so I think that’s kind of the best thing to do is because then there’s no differences. If you play for Wales, you’re Welsh.
“It was nice getting involved, singing the anthem. When we were young there were loads of little things that the FAW did to really give us Welsh history and for us to understand what it really means,” adding his Welsh grandfather would never let him get away with not learning the Welsh national anthem.
With two crucial European Championship qualification away matches against Croatia and Hungary coming up in June, he says the players are confident they can get the results they need, especially after the crucial win against Slovakia at home in March.
Smith says the new generation of young players such as himself, Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks, Ben Woodburn and Tyler Roberts have gelled brilliantly with senior members of the squad and feels there is something special going on with the squad under manager Ryan Giggs.
“When I came in, it was amazing how connected the group was already and obviously the gaffer has come in and has kind of kept the same togetherness. That’s why I think you saw in the last 20 minutes of the Slovakia game we could dig in and defend. I think that comes from the togetherness the squad feels,” added Smith.
Returning to his time at FC Twente, he says he learnt a lot playing in a 4-4-2 formation, which meant he played a role “more as a box to box player” rather than the holding role he played with the Manchester City Under 23 side. That experience stood him in good stead when playing for Wales.
Smith would be more than happy to return to FC Twente for another season, describing the Enschede outfit as a great club with an amazing fan following.
“Players like Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount established themselves abroad and I do feel like in England, if you’re a youngster in a club, it is hard to get a chance in the first team, but abroad they’re a lot more able to give opportunities to young players.”
Mwy o Sgorio has English subtitles, S4C. Matt Smith was interviewed by Bryn Law. Both the Croatia and Hungary versus Wales matches will be broadcast live on S4C.