Chris Smalling’s journey to Manchester United was not a simple one, nor a route that many footballers find themselves taking. In March 2008 he was playing for non-league side Maidstone United and in January 2010 he signed for United.
Despite being at the club for almost a decade now, Smalling revealed in an interview with The Times that he still can’t get his head around the fact he plays for United but loves the pressure that comes with the job.
Sometimes I still can’t believe it. I grew up watching United. I’m always very grateful and very proud where I’ve got to. I think of what I’ve been through. I thrive off pressure. I like the physical side. If someone wants to be physical, I’d back myself in a race.
My biggest challenge was Didier Drogba. He almost had everything. Bobby Zamora was always a handful. He’s a name you never really think of but he had strength and was clever. I feel I’m more prepared than most defenders going into a game because of the quality we’ve got that I see in training. Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough to cruise through the odd game, I think I’d get more out of a training session, being up against [Marcus] Rashford, [Anthony] Martial and Rom [Romelu Lukaku]. It’s a constant battle against them.
United’s form and results have completely changed since Jose Mourinho was replaced with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. While the defeat against PSG was a big disappointment, Smalling recognises that the mood has changed at Old Trafford, on the pitch as much as off it, even with his friends and family acknowledging the difference. Smalling is hoping that we can get back to winning ways when we take on Chelsea in the cup on Monday night.
Ole said one of the main reasons he was able to come back was because of his connection to the club. He’s seen it through everything. I definitely see what we had with Sir Alex through Ole. He came in with, really, the one target of bringing belief back into players. We were going through a tough patch. Confidence had dipped. He wanted to put an arm round some players, and just go, ‘You’re good players, there’s a reason Manchester United bought you, I’m backing you, go and flourish.’
Even my own family and friends are a lot more buoyant about the club. The other night was disappointing but you could definitely see the crowd was on another level.
Considering how we are playing since Ole’s been in, it would be a no-brainer if he was given the job [long-term]. We’d definitely be happy. But we just need to play our games. The club says there’s a process going on. You can see how we have played alongside — under — him.
When we spoke with Ole in different meetings, we spoke about the fact that this season was half gone when he came in but we’re still able to get at least one trophy and finish in the top four. PSG is definitely not over. But Monday is a prime opportunity.