The Rise and Rise of Chris Smalling
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on March 3, 2016
One of the main positives of Man United’s poor season has been the rapid rise of Chris Smalling from squad player into the main man at the heart of the United defence. Smalling’s improvement has been one of the success stories of Louis Van Gaal’s time in charge at United. While reports that Van Gaal’s overly detailed and repetitive training sessions were boring the players and that some were becoming disillusioned, one man who has greatly benefited from the repetition and certainty in terms of having a set positional sense and style is Chris Smalling. The Dutchman has now gone as far as to tip Smalling to captain United in the future. High praise for a man who was effectively disposable squad player little over 12 months ago.
Not only has Smalling become key for United, he’s also become a massive part of England’s plans in the European Championships this summer. Bar any injury he’s guaranteed himself a spot on the plane and probably in the starting 11. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the vacuum of top-class English centre-backs once occupied by the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Jamie Carragher looks like it could be filled by the United man.
So just what has made Chris Smalling so important for club and country lately? There’s no arguing that the potential was always there. He has the pace, height and athleticism necessary to be a top centre-half in English football and has had these attributes for quite a while. What always let Smalling down was his technical ability and confidence. Due to the aforementioned training sessions where nothing is really left to chance by Van Gaal, Smalling’s technical ability isn’t really tested as he plays in what is quite a robotic defensive system. Basically, if he stays in the positions he’s told to take up, plays the passes he’s told to play, his athleticism will carry him through most games and he won’t be left in situations to make mistakes.
There’s also signs that Smalling is now beginning to develop into a key figure in the Manchester United dressing room and is embracing his status as one of the experienced players and as a leader in a relatively young and inexperienced squad. The turning point for Smalling was in November of last season when he was shown a red card away to Manchester City in Van Gaal’s first Manchester derby, Smalling has since visited a sports psychiatrist which Smalling himself puts down as one of the keys to his recent drastic improvement, “It was always just a case of focusing and improving confidence.”
United as a team have been criticised for their negative style of play at times this season, but Smalling’s individual performances have won plaudits, and ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has hailed him as ‘the best centre-back in the Premier League’. With Smalling’s athleticism, attitude, age and confidence there is no doubt he is on a steep upward curve, and regardless of what you think about Louis Van Gaal, it’s very hard to argue with how he’s developed Chris Smalling and his claims that he could one day captain Manchester United.