Galway's Joshua Smith (left) and his best friend, RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban (right).
# Different Strokes
A tale of two careers as Galway's Joshua Smith searches for hope while best friend Willi Orban battles Bayern Munich for glory
‘We’re like brothers so when I came here he joked that I could be the king of Ireland’ – Galway United’s new American centre back is ready to make an impression.

JOSHUA SMITH AND Willi Orban’s story can be traced back to their days in a shared dorm of FC Kaiserslautern’s youth academy.

It was there, in the middle part of the 2000s, that their friendship blossomed. Smith was the American son of a US Army soldier who had lived in a nearby barracks.

Orban was the boy with Hungarian heritage who quickly rose through the ranks of the system.

They formed a bond that has stood the test of time in a business where most are simply passing ships in the night.

The distance that has been forced between them over the course of completely contrasting careers has not diluted the depth of feeling.

Even now, as Smith embarks on his second challenge in the League of Ireland with Galway United following a spell with Finn Harps last season, the pair are in constant contact.

Orban is a Hungarian international and captain of RB Leipzig, the side pushing Bayern Munich all the way for the Bundesliga title.

“He is my best friend, he is my brother for as long as I can remember,” Smith beams. “He is like family to me, one of those people who has stuck with me for my entire life.

When I told him that I had signed here [Galway], Willi was so happy for me. We’re like brothers so when I came here he joked that I could be the king of Ireland,” he laughs. “But seriously, Willi knows me, he has been there for me throughout my journey and no matter what has happened he is there for me. He knows I would do the same for him.”

Smith, with that military upbringing, was well used to the discipline expected of him within a regimented environment.

“I had to say ‘yes sir, yes ma’am’ whenever I spoke with my parents,” he recalls. “I don’t know what rank my father was, it was something I never asked of him.

“But when you move away at such a young age, learning to wash clothes by yourself and to cook for yourself, you have to become independent and grow up in the world.

“You have to learn about the right things to do and the wrong things; knowing when is the right time to go out and when is not the right time. You have to be smart and you really have to be focused.”

joshua-smith Ryan Byrne / INPHO Galway's Joshua Smith. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Smith describes being able to play football today as ‘simply a blessing’ and it is not hard to understand why considering the 27-year-old was told he might never kick a ball again.

“I had to sit it out for a year and half because of bone bruising, there was liquid in the bone and I was in so much pain. I couldn’t walk, I found it hard to move at all.

The pain was so sharp so to be here in Ireland, to be able to train every day and still play this beautiful game, it’s not just a blessing for me. It’s really beautiful.”

Smith never managed to make the breakthrough into Kaiserslautern’s first team, getting as far as the U19s, and the Louisiana native then returned to the United States.

It was there that he starred in the college football scene for the University of San Francisco, so much so that New England Revolution drafted him into the MLS.

The towering centre back was cut from the squad just a few months after signing and an enforced sabbatical was required when his injury problems became too much following a season with SC Hessen Dreieich in the German lower leagues.

Through it all, Orban, who by this point was establishing himself a leader at the heart of Leipzig’s defence, remained loyal. The Hungarian international is going through a tough time of his own as he bids to return from the knee injury which has ruled him out since the beginning of November.

alan-murphy Oisin Keniry / INPHO Galway manager Alan Murphy. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Leipzig only trail Bundesliga leaders Bayern by a point and Orban has had to experience the title battle from the stands. 

For Smith, his aims for 2020 might not be quite as lofty but his dedication will not waiver.

“What fans and my teammates can expect from me is that I will give my all in every game, every day I will do everything I can to make our goals happen. This is a new opportunity for me, to play in a new city – a lovely city – where the fans are so passionate.

“The people are so genuine and sincere, they stop and talk to you and it makes you feel like you belong because they really mean it when they are friendly to you.

“They are good people here with lots of passion,” Smith continues. “I will use that passion because for me, football is a 24/7 job. It is a full-time way of life; how you eat, how you train, how you sleep.

“You either have to train more to catch up to those around you or train and work hard to reach the next level. I will always be thinking about football.”

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