Chris Smalling’s patience will soon see him take centre stage
They say first impressions always count. Chris Smalling seems to have heeded those words – his first months at Old Trafford could hardly have gone any better especially for someone who, only a few years ago, had plied his trade for lowly Maidstone United. Playing non-league football at Homelands, a 3,700 capacity ground in Kent, must seem an age ago now.
Since then, he has pretty much hit the dizzying heights – and beyond. Heck, he had a Europa League medal to his name before he had even joined the club and that looks the first of many a success. What has surprised many is just how well the young English centre-half has adjusted to life at the top; wasting little time settling, and, despite making just eight appearances for the club this season, four of those coming in Europe, he seems to have made a good enough impression.
Indeed, with Jonny Evans out of favour (in my opinion, harshly), he seems to have risen above him in the pecking order and so that showed in midweek where he had taken to the field against Stoke City. With Rio Ferdinand rested, Smalling assumed responsibility and flourished. He is often commended for his great aerial presence and being an excellent reader of the game, something that has provoked comparisons to Ferdinand himself. It’s worth noting that in that game Smalling had won five tackles in the air, making a further three clearances with the head, too.
Danny Murphy, his former team-mate at Fulham, summed him up perfectly. “He has great pace is calm on the ball and good in the air. What more do you need from a good centre-half? He’ll be a great asset to his new club, and he won’t look out of place.” And sure, he hasn’t looked ‘out of place’. He’s humble, or at least that’s the way it looks, and looks more than willing to go through the United learning curb; perhaps the Ferdinand comparisons are a tad harsh and unfair on such a young player. It is difficult to jump to too many conclusions on someone who has played so little, but the signs are looking good.
“Hopefully I can make my presence felt and get many more [games]. For the time being, it is all about concentration and consistency,” said Smalling in the aftermath of the Stoke game. “That will improve the more I play. I know Vida and Rio are the first choices, I just have to make sure I do equally well when I come in, so I know I am playing my part.” Like any player, he would love to play more often but he seems to accept that he will play the occasional league game (barring an injury) this season – here he has Vidic and Ferdinand, two players that are far more established to compete with. He’s not frustrated, he’s patient and willing to succeed. From what we’ve seen so far, there is no reason why they wouldn’t happen…