Matt Smith: Rising Wales star is the 'gift' who keeps on giving

By Rob PhillipsBBC Sport Wales football correspondent
Wales and Man City midfielder Matt Smith chats about life in the Netherlands at FC Twente
Uefa Nations League: Wales v Denmark
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Date: Fri, 16 Nov Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary; also highlights on BBC Two Wales from 23:15 GMT

Wales international Matthew Smith is the gift who keeps on giving.

The Manchester City teenager has already made a mark with Wales and has made a huge impression on loan at Dutch club FC Twente.

FC Twente technical director Ted van Leeuwen said: "Matthew is a gift... I called him a present from Manchester City to us."

In return, Smith is unwrapping his potential.

He has already become a firm favourite at FC Twente who, as former champions, were relegated last season and are looking for an immediate return to the Dutch top-flight.

Van Leeuwen said: "Actually it's a league that if you want to go up - like in all second leagues - you do that with 28 to 30-year-olds.

"Matthew was 18 when he arrived, but he plays like a very mature player. His impact has been very, very big."

Before a recent 2-1 defeat at Den Bosch, FC Twente have only lost twice, both while Smith was on duty with Wales.

That underlines why FC Twente, currently fourth in the Eerste Divisie, were keen for Smith to play in a key game against promotion rivals Go Ahead Eagles on 18 November.

The match fell between Wales' 2-1 Nations League defeat against Denmark on 16 November and the friendly with Albania on 20 November.

Wales manager Ryan Giggs agreed because he recognises the significance of Smith's Dutch development. In the event FC Twente lost 1-0.

Smith was the youngest player to be loaned out by the Premier League champions, having joined the Manchester City academy at the age of 14 from West Bromwich Albion.

By moving abroad to gain first-team football he is on a trail which is becoming increasingly familiar for youngsters battling to make their mark at Premier League clubs packed with world-class senior players.

Jason Sancho, who left Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017, is the highest-profile beneficiary having made his England debut in the goalless draw with Croatia.

Smith, who made his Wales debut in the 0-0 draw with Mexico in June, said: "It's different in England in the Premier League, especially with the resources a lot of teams have.

"In some countries they want to buy young players to play them. It is nice to stay in England and play first-team football, but it's getting a lot harder now just because the levels of the leagues are getting higher.

Ryan Giggs oversees a Wales training session
Wales have won three out of seven internationals under Ryan Giggs

"When I first thought about the move I did have my doubts about it.

"But then I look at the players who have done well abroad, Mason Mount (of Derby County) went to Vitesse Arnhem and did well, so I just kind of went with it.

"Now I am in the Wales squad, playing first-team football. I feel if I wasn't it would be a lot more difficult for me to get in the squads."

Smith is enjoying life in the city of Enschede and would encourage other youngsters to make the same move.

"If you are young it's a learning experience for your development. It's a different way of living, different way of playing football. A different culture," he said.

"I'm still only 18. Not many 18-year-olds can say I moved to Holland to play football. I take it as a development improving myself and the main thing in coming to FC Twente was to learn and I am learning every day."

"On the pitch it's fantastic. I am seeing so much - I am playing with fantastic players with Wales - we have some very talented players here. I am seeing the world."

Golden Generation

Born in Redditch, Smith is qualified for Wales through a grandfather who was born in Blackwood, Gwent.

His move into the Welsh system happened thanks to Wales team-mate Tyler Roberts when they were at the West Bromwich Albion academy.

Smith said: "I was speaking to Tyler about it. I knew he was involved in the Welsh set up. He spoke to people and I got called up from a training camp. Next camp was a game.

"I think it was under-16s. So I made my debut then and it was through Tyler speaking to people at Wales. It was fantastic."

Smith and Roberts are among a group of Welsh youngsters whose progress Giggs has accelerated by promoting them to the national team.

Harry Wilson, Ethan Ampadu and Ben Woodburn were all team-mates of Smith well before they made the senior squad.

Ryan Giggs and Matthew Smith
Wales manager Ryan Giggs has backed young players such as Matt Smith

Their emergence together has echoes of the nucleus of previous manager Chris Coleman's Euro 2016 semi-finalists, who were more than just team-mates in a WhatsApp group.

Chris Gunter, Neil Taylor, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale were among those who came through at the same time, with a bond which helped that Wales squad earn the tag of "golden generation".

Smith sees the similarities with the current crop: "We have the togetherness that we have played together for a long time for Wales.

"We know what it's about, we know the set-up. I think it has helped the national team.

"The group from the Euros who did so well there, were playing together when they were younger. I definitely think it helps in a lot of ways.

"We want to succeed at international level and try to do the same if not better than 2016."

There is a long way to go before Giggs' generation becomes the new golden generation.

'Fantastic atmosphere'

But they could make a big leap by beating Denmark at Cardiff City Stadium on Friday, to earn promotion to the top tier of the Nations League.

Smith was a substitute in the 4-1 Nations League win against Republic of Ireland in Cardiff last September and made his first Wales start in the 1-0 victory in Dublin last month.

Now he and the Wales squad are eager to avenge the 2-0 defeat in Denmark in last September's reverse fixture in Aarhus.

"To be fair, when we played against Ireland it was a fantastic atmosphere so I can't imagine what it's going to be like!" Smith said.

"As the gaffer said, it's like a cup final. It's going to be a fantastic game."

And a win would be a welcome gift for Wales.