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Top Journos Explain Why Hodgson Is So Keen On Smalling

Speaking with RoM for the World Cup preview, Martin Lipton and Dom Fifield have discussed the inclusion of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the England squad.

Martin Lipton, chief football writer for The Mirror

They are favourites of Roy Hodgson; and what might be hard for many United fans to get their heads around is that Hodgson regards these two from a very different perspective. While United fans have been accustomed to the security of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand for eight years, and wonder if Jones and Smalling are up to the job, Hodgson has never had the benefit of those kind of players at his disposal. He sees Smalling and Jones as two talented centre-backs – which they undoubtedly are – who can offer him cover at full-back. The configuration of his squad, with seven defenders instead of the standard eight, is based on that calculation.

The best centre-half in the England squad is Gary Cahill by some distance. It remains a mystery why United never tried to sign him, given how relatively late into his career he was still at Bolton Wanderers. He is coming to the peak of his powers and his athleticism and burst of pace gives him that get-out-of-jail card if he allows the striker to get away initially. He is a steady character too. It is noticeable that when some of the more sensitive types at Chelsea stick the headphones on and walk straight out after games, Cahill is always prepared to talk.

Smalling and Jones are both behind him, to my mind. Phil Jagielka’s place in the team is the more vulnerable, but he does complement Cahill by playing on the left side of the two and their form has been decent, especially in the 0-0 draw against Ukraine in Kiev in qualification. Centre-halves do tend to mature later and Jones, in particular, is only 22. Much as I am entertained by Roy Keane’s random and often arbitrary monstering of random players he happens to dislike, even he was stretching credibility by blaming Jones for being injured too much.

Dom Fifield, London football correspondent for The Guardian

The versatility that has dogged Phil Jones since he moved to United has probably earned him his inclusion in the England squad. Both he and Chris Smalling can operate at right-back if required as a back up for Glen Johnson, and the 22-year-old might also supplement numbers in defensive midfield if Hodgson feels he has to close down a contest. It may be that neither starts a match in Brazil, but they should benefit from the experience of a major finals.

Smalling has always been a Hodgson favourite, ever since he was secured from Maidstone while the manager was at Fulham. He is first-choice back-up for the Gary Cahill – Phil Jagielka central defensive partnership, but both he and Jones should be classed as ‘squad players’ at best. The reality is both have plenty to prove at this level, particularly against better quality opposition.


In the World Cup preview, they also discuss the importance of Wayne Rooney, England’s chances and Roy Hodgson’s suitability to the job. All profit to Trafford Macmillan Wellbeing Centre.

Follow @DomFifield and @MartinLipton on Twitter.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. Tommy says:

    Both had poor seasons but I can see where Hodgeson is coming from that they can play in different positions. I would still startn either at full back above the hopeless Glen Johnson, I would actually consider Jones playing a man to man marking job on pirlo although in those conditions he woujld probably have a heart attack doing all that running

  2. Tommy says:

    A footballer with morals, he dosent want to play just for the money, good on him

  3. samuel - united WE stand says:

    Jones – look at raphael varane at madrid.. He is 19.. Bloody 19 and already making significant strides… Jones lacks in composure most of the times, he doesn’t play consistently at centrehalf in order to progress because the managers are not sure about him.. He has the brawn but doubts still remain about his intelligence on the pitch.. He could improve but he could also turn out to be another O’shea.. At least the ulsterman could stay fit.

    As for smalling.. I’ve always said he has the attributes of a dominant centrehalf but he needs to improve on concentration and distribution of the ball.. Van gaal will want total manipulating of the ball and it stems from goalkeeper to defence..

    England are hardly swamped with quality, they should cling on jones desperately.

  4. Neil Moore says:

    Oh surprise surprise Lipton over rating Cahill. He’s s fucking rentboy fan.

  5. united till i die says:

    @ Samuel

    I’m a big fan of Varane and think he’s destined to be a top player at club at international level. I remember reading Fergie was interested in him but Jose beat him to it. Now it seems Mourhino is after him again at Chelsea.

  6. Jackie Spain says:

    @Neil Moore: So Cahill plays for Chelsea; doesn’t alter the fact United should have bought him. Cahill wasn’t keen on going to Chelsea but United ignored him.


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