Last week Tommy Smith became New Zealand’s youngest ever captain after leading the All Whites to a 2-2 draw against El Salvador and then captaining the side again in their 1-0 win over Honduras.
The 22 year old central defender has had a lot of ups and downs since breaking into the first team through the Ipswich academy though.
Smith got his first chance to play first team football in February 2008 when he went on loan to Stevenage who were playing in the Conference National at the time. After impressing at Stevenage the youngster managed to earn himself his first start for Ipswich on the opening day of the 2008-09 season. In his first few games he showed great potential and fans were delighted by his encouraging start. Unfortunately, a couple of injuries stopped Smith from gaining as many first team appearances as he could have and after recovering was sent on loan to Brentford for 2 months.
It was after this loan period that Smith really showed his potential and earned himself a place in New Zealand’s squad for the 2010 World Cup.
During the World Cup New Zealand remarkably finished the tournament as the only unbeaten team and a large part of their success was down to their sturdy defence, which also included current West Ham defender Winston Reid. Smith played every minute of New Zealand’s World Cup campaign and when he returned to Ipswich for the 2010-11 season Ipswich fans were expecting great things.
This wasn’t to be the case though as Smith struggled to find the form he had maintained during the tournament. As the season dragged on and results were hard to come by many fans turned on the players. Smith was hit hard by critical fans and most believed that he no longer would make the cut at Championship level. It made sense for him to go back on loan to a lower division side but even when he went to Colchester on loan he couldn’t hold down a first team role.
As we see so often with young players, the pressure must have got to Smith after the World Cup because everyone at Ipswich was expecting so much from him. It always proves difficult for young players to maintain their form which is something the fans and media alike always seem to forget. After not impressing at Colchester, Smith almost became forgotten about at Portman Road and most fans had lost their faith in the young centre back.
It was always going to be a long road of recovery for Smith but the New Zealand captain dealt with the challenge well and finally during the later stages of last season he began to find his form once again. Paul Jewell needed to assess how well Smith would cope in the first team before he could let his contract run out this summer.
Smith relished this chance to prove his worth and put in some very solid shifts next to Damien Delaney at centre back. Now fans didn’t know what to think, as one moment they were sure he couldn’t handle Championship football then the next they saw him playing better than most defenders at that level. Paul Jewell has now decided to keep Smith and this could well be a decision that has a massive impact on next season. At 22 years old, Smith should now be able to play a full season with some consistency and could well be a permanent starter for Ipswich.
It is clear that Smith has learnt a lot because he has been through these highs and lows in his career already. Nobody thought at one point in time that Smith would become a key player for Ipswich but now it looks like next season will be his year to really shine.
Obviously nothing is certain in football and a few solid displays from Smith doesn’t all of a sudden make him a world beater. However, it has been great to see a young player turn things around in a short space of time and prove his critics completely wrong. If he continues with how he left off last season then there is no reason why he shouldn’t feature regularly for Ipswich next season and beyond.