Author: - Stretford_End
With all the focus from the national press on the performances of new United keeper David De Gea, it may be worthwhile noting the development and versatility of Chris Smalling following a very impressive debut season. Smalling was key in getting United back in the game, when 2-0 down against Manchester City two Sundays ago. His anticipation to get on the end of an Ashley Young freekick shows that his reading of the game in front of goal is just as effective as his defensive play when intercepting a ball. With injuries to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, Smalling is eying a centre half role in the next couple of weeks, however – he may find himself bombing up and down the right flank a little more this season.
When Smalling signed from Fulham two seasons ago, I didn’t have a clue what type of player we were actually signing. There were many grumbles about the price tag, with many citing his nationality as the main reason for the inflated fee, and of course the emphasis on ‘sell on value’ as opposed to signing a player of proven quality. I’ve learned over the years to never question the decision made by Sir Alex Ferguson especially in the transfer market. We all remember the crazy summer that saw Liam Miller, Kleberson and Djemba Djemba come tumbling through the Old Trafford doors – however, he also signed a future World Player of the year who was so very often a match winner. I knew nothing of Smalling, but was very impressed with his performances last season alongside Nemanja Vidic, and was unlucky to have given away a penalty in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea back in March.
So why blog about Smalling? Well for starters, I think he is going to feature a lot more this season than in his debut season – possibly due to the aging legs of Ferdinand, but also because of his height and versatility. The manager would sometimes adopt John O’shea at right back in key games due to his height and dealing with powerful sides from set pieces. O’shea would get a lot of stick, but like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he appeared to be a manager’s dream in his loyalty, versatility and understanding of the squad rotation system.
Ferguson would regularly start O’shea against more powerful physical sides
The progression of Smalling over the past season must surely have been a contributing factor in letting an experienced pro leave for pastures new (Smalling is actually an inch taller than the Irishman). So I predict in matches against City, Chelsea and Liverpool – we could well see Smalling in at right back as opposed to the dynamic and tenacious Rafael or brother Fabio. However, Ferdinand’s fitness could prove to be a problem.
The ex-Fulham defender says he has only played right back a handful of times, but is eager to learn and progress even further in the United ranks. Smalling clearly understands the need for versatility within a talented United squad and demonstrates a mature ambition to gain even more experience:
“I only played at right-back once for Fulham reserves a while back. It is a hard shift running up and down that right wing but it is all about a learning curve. You need experience in different positions and, hopefully, it will make me a better player. I don’t think you can afford to be a one-position man in the United squad. There are so many players who can play in different positions. If you can play in one or two roles then by then end of the season you are likely to have clocked up quite a few games.
If I can get a game that is the main thing but I see myself as a centre-back first and foremost. I will be really pushing for that job because that is the main one I want. If the manager feels I can do a job at right-back from time to time, I am happy to do that, but centre-back is my main position. I will strive for that. I really enjoyed last year. I just want to play more games and I feel if I get a good run of games together then my form will carry on. I am not worried about second season syndrome.”
Ferguson has so many defensive options at his disposal right now, regardless of the setback to his two first choice centre halves. Whether it be Smalling and Evans or either one partnered alongside new signing Phil Jones, we’ll have to wait and see. But I think all Reds that watched Smalling at close quarters last season will have seen the massive potential the youngster has. Composed, cultured and has a good bit of pace about him – his future most definitely lies at centre back, however the reported £10 million fee that United paid for him in January 2010 looks a great piece of business now.