Stevenage V Tottenham at Broadhall Way : Match Preview
Smith relishing FA Cup chance
New Stevenage manager Gary Smith has spent a large part of the last three years longing to be part of the FA Cup and he now has the chance to pull off one of the biggest giant-killings in the prestigious competition's history when his team host Tottenham on Sunday.
Smith took charge of Stevenage just three weeks ago after Boro chairman Phil Wallace decided to appoint the 43-year-old despite reported interest in the position from high-profile figures like Paul Ince and Martin Keown.
The Harlow-born manager may be relatively unknown in England, but on the other side of the Atlantic, he is one of the most well-known and respected coaches in the game.
In 2008 while employed by Arsenal, Smith was sent to the United States to set up an academy at MLS franchise the Colorado Rapids, with whom the Gunners had developed a partnership through Stan Kroenke. The club quickly realised his potential and promoted the Englishman to head coach.
The move proved a fruitful one as Smith defied the odds and won the MLS Cup - the American version of the Barclays Premier League - on a budget that was minute compared to the likes of the Los Angeles Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls.
Although he is the first to admit the American game has developed greatly over the past few years, Smith missed being part of the FA Cup during his time stateside, and is glad that he has a chance to write another chapter in the competition's long history of upsets this weekend.
"When I was in America I always tried to keep an eye on what was happening in the FA Cup," Smith said.
"I tried to see the draw and keep an eye on the games, although that was a bit of a challenge some times.
"It made me a little bit homesick when I was watching the draw or one of the games. Cup competitions are not a strength of American soccer.
"Here we have the FA Cup, and that's historically one of the greatest cup competitions in the world so to be part of it now and to be in the last 16 is a wonderful achievement and one that I hope we can all look back on with pride come Sunday evening."
Although Smith's grandparents lived within ear-shot of White Hart Lane, his loyalty always resided in the red side of north London, giving Sunday's game against Spurs extra importance for the boss of the npower League One side.
His attachment to Arsenal goes back to his days as a budding midfielder when he tried, and failed, to earn a contract at Highbury as a youth player. A journeyman career followed as a player with several lower league clubs before he joined Arsenal as a scout in 2007 after spending time on the coaching staff at Wycombe and Watford.
Smith is still a passionate supporter of Arsenal, their philosophy, and their manager, but he begrudgingly concedes that there has been a power-shift in north London over the last 12 months.
"Spurs are 10 points clear of Arsenal so you would have to say there has been a slight shift this year," he said.
"I certainly lean towards the Arsenal side of north London, but I am very respectful of how this Spurs team has evolved over the last two or three years since Harry Redknapp has been in charge."
Redknapp insists talk of him becoming the next England manager will not distract him or his players from their attempt to achieve a league and cup double.
The Football Association are looking for a new national coach following Fabio Capello's resignation and Redknapp is the clear favourite to fill the role after his excellent work at White Hart Lane.
After just over three years at the helm, the 64-year-old has taken the club from rock bottom to third in the table and there is now a real possibility that Spurs can win their first championship since 1961.
Redknapp may have spent the last four days halfway across the world in Dubai, but he has been unable to escape the paper talk and public clamour for him to replace Capello.
The former Portsmouth and Southampton manager would be interested in taking the job but the FA appear to be willing to wait until the end of this month, or even the end of the season, before making their move.
Until that time comes, Redknapp insists he remains totally focused on his role as Tottenham manager.
"It is not a distraction, not at all," Redknapp said. "I have just been thinking about Stevenage all week. "My focus has to be on trying to get Tottenham as high as I can in the table. "I can't start thinking about anything else really."
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