Ryan Smith was given his debut in the Arsenal first team in the same game Arsene Wenger handed Cesc Fabregas his first Arsenal minutes, so what happened to the teenager as Fabregas went on to captain the Gunners?

FA Premier Reserve League South. Rugby Football Club, Rugby, 16/8/05. Credit: Arsenal Football Club / David Price.
FA Premier Reserve League South. Rugby Football Club, Rugby, 16/8/05. Credit: Arsenal Football Club / David Price.

Ryan Smith was six months older than Cesc Fabregas when he stepped onto the pitch for Arsenal in the League Cup third round tie against Rotherham United as he came off the bench to replace Jerome Thomas after 73 minutes.

But Ryan Smith’s appearance in that 10-9 (on pens) win made him the fifth youngest player to play for Arsenal in the same game that saw Cesc Fabregas become our youngest.

We all know what happened to Cesc, who continues to play at the top level with Monaco after rising to the rank of Arsenal captain, returning home to Barcelona and, to the frustration of Gooners, winning the Premier League with Chelsea and money for those who do online sports betting.

But what happened to Ryan Smith?

Smith’s debut for Arsenal came on 28 October 2003, scoring from the spot on what must have been the best night of his young life.

He played a total of six times for Arsenal’s first team, racking up 179 minutes in the League Cup against Rotherham (47′), Wolves (12′), Middlesbrough (17′), Manchester City (61′), Everton (20′) and Manchester United (22′).

An injury, from a two-footed knee-high tackle during a reserves game would make sure Smith could never enjoy a career like Fabregas.

He told Arseblog in 2020, ” “I remember I picked the ball up and started running at a player and knocked it past him. This other player, from literally nowhere, just came out and two-footed into my knee when it was planted. A really high tackle. My cruciate was ruptured, my cartilage was gone so it was just bone on bone for the rest of my career.”

Ryan Smith was sent on loan to Leicester in the 05/06 season where he made 19 appearances, but when the Foxes weren’t interested in signing him, Arsenal made the decision to let him go at the same time Dennis Bergkamp retired, both of them playing their last game for Arsenal in his testimonial. Ashley Cole moved to Chelsea that summer, too, Sol Campbell went to Portsmouth, Robert Pires went to Villarreal, and Jose Antoni Reyes was loaned to Real Madrid.

Like the player he started his Arsenal career alongside, he got to end it alongside some pretty impressive players.

A free transfer took him to Derby where he made 20 appearances, with three assists before being sold to Millwall eight months later for £200k, the only transfer fee ever paid for him.

Despite chasing Smith, he was at Millwall for only 19 months (24 appearances) before he was off on another free to Southampton (14 appearances) where he stayed 10 months before signing for Crystal Palace on another free.

After six appearances in seven months at Selhurst Park, Smith’s time in England was up and it was off to the States to sign for the Kansas City Wizards, who went on to become Sporting Kansas City. It was there that Smith enjoyed his most productive spell. He made a total of 32 appearances for Kansas, scoring three and assisting six. His career saw him score only one other goal, coming for Leicester City during his loan spell.

In 2011, while at Kansas in the MLS, Smith was given the chance to trial with Atlas FC in Mexico during pre-season as a left-back, but that move never happened and he was traded to Chivas USA a few months later.

13 months later he was on the move again, his 2013 starting with another free transfer, this time to Skoda Xanthi in the Greek second tier.

By the summer, he was without a club and did not find another. He was 26.

“After finishing playing in Greece for six months, I just called it a day,” he told Arseblog. “I just couldn’t play no more, with the knee issues and seven surgeries.”

He now works as an agent.