Chris Smalling has been one of Manchester United’s best and most consistent players this season. His performances have been a revelation to the United defence.
During pre-season, Phil Jones and Daley Blind were the number one centre back duo in Louis van Gaal’s line ups, but when an injury put Jones out of the picture, Smalling stepped up and has now stolen Jones’ first team spot.
8 years ago, at age 17, Chris Smalling started his professional career at Maidstone United in the Isthmian League Division One South. Half way through his second season with the club, he cemented himself as a core member of The Stones’ defence.
He scored in his last game for the club, in March 2008.
By the end of April, 2008, he had signed up for Middlesbrough but had his contract mutually cancelled for reasons relating to home sickness. So in June he signed up to London club Fulham.
Smalling had never professionally been signed by Maidstone, so that he could continue playing for England at school boy’s level. This meant that Fulham could sign the centre back on a free, but instead chose to pay the club £10,000 and a further £10,000 for every 10 of Smalling’s appearances for them.
Chris Smalling was very quickly named as the captain of Fulham’s development side.
Just 9 appearances into his Fulham career, Manchester United came knocking, and paid Fulham just £5.6 million in December of the 2009/10 season, to bring the talented 20 year old to Old Trafford.
Smalling was sent back to Fulham on loan for the remainder of the season, where he made a further 10 appearances for the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson won the battle to sign Chris Smalling, outwitting Arsène Wenger in the process. The ex-United boss explains in his new book Leading that:
“I got my revenge [on Arsenal for signing Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff] when Roy Hodgson, then the manager of Fulham, was instrumental in helping us snatch the defender, Chris Smalling, away from Arsenal.”
At Manchester United, Super Chris scored in his second start for the club, in the League Cup 3rd round against Scunthorpe.
Unfortuneatly, Smalling has often struggled to solidify his place in the first eleven. Upon first arrival, he had to contend with two legendary defenseman, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, and so obviously struggled for game time.
The big defender has also suffered many varying injuries in his career that have halted any kind of consistent first team football. But this season, he looks fitter than ever and there are claims from the United camp that he’s their quickest sprinter.
A FIFA study at the end of last season, which featured in Mundo Deportivo, clocked Manchester United’s Luis Antonio Valenica in at 35.1 km/h, thus making him the fastest footballer in the world. Maybe a study would show Smalling to top the list.
Smalling’s inconsistent seasons have come up with some good performances. His best, and possibly his most unlucky, performances have all coming against the United’s local rivals, Manchester City.
He has scored twice against City, on two different occasions, but last season, he picked up a red card, from two yellows, in the first half against the Sky Blues. His first yellow card was a travesty, completely undeserved for a non-foul on the keeper, Joe Hart.
Since the unlucky sending off in November last year, the Englishman has produced solid performance after solid performance and, has knocked in a couple of goals on the way.
Smalling has spoken to United Review this week and revealed his thoughts on his season so far, giving himself a much understated evaluation. But hopefully it means that he can perform even better than he has been:
“Yeah I am happy that I have been able to play in every game so far and that is what my aim was at the beginning, especially after the disappointment of last season and the injuries that I had to start with.”
“It has been nice to get a consistent run and I am enjoying my football at the minute. I would go with a seven out of 10 so far. There is definitely more to come. I am hoping that I can keep kicking on and improving each day, keep clocking up the games and contributing to the team.”
In the same interview, he expressed his views about his boss, Louis van Gaal, and his methods of management:
“He has helped me a lot,”
“He is very honest about what your good points are and what you can improve on.”
“That is very refreshing to hear. When he first joined the club he said that after six to eight months of working, when we know what he wants, then we will improve as a team.”
“We have obviously improved on the start of last season and, as a player, I definitely feel that I have improved as well. I think he is a manager that improves a lot of players.”
Finally, United Review asked Smalling what it’s like to wear Manchester United’s captain’s armband:
“It’s pretty surreal but it’s nice that the manager has shown faith in me, and he has so much trust in me. It’s nice to be rewarded and I hope to reward him back with good performances on the pitch.”
Manchester United signed the big defender up to a new contract at the end of last season, which will keep Smalling at the club until 2019. Upon signing the new contract, van Gaal had this to say about Chris:
“Chris has improved and developed immensely during my time at the club, becoming an integral part of the first-team squad,”
Chris Smalling looks set to start tomorrow against Sunderland, hoping to help his goalkeeper, David De Gea, achieve his first Premier League clean sheet of the season.