Chris Smalling has been a revelation for Manchester United this season and has fully deserved plaudits for his consistent displays.
After overcoming his injury niggles, Smalling has become a colossal leader in Louis van Gaal’s side and is quickly moulding into the defender that made Sir Alex Ferguson fork out £12m to secure his services from Fulham.
The 25-year-old originally plied his trade in the non-league with Maidstone United, but has played a pivotal part in helping the Red Devils possess the meanest defence in the Premier League this season.
Smalling’s club captain Wayne Rooney has recently praised the defender’s improvement and recent consistency.
England’s all-time top-scorer said: “He is in the top three centre-halves in the world – I think he is that good.
“He is a great player and he is developing to become more of a leader of the back four.
“It is great to see for both United and England, and hopefully that can continue for him and he can help us to be successful.”
With only 20 international caps to his name and with Euro 2016 looming large now should be time for England manager Roy Hodgson to make Smalling his defensive stalwart.
After the international retirements of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka have been the go to partnership for Hodgson, but after an appalling World Cup campaign in Brazil many felt that England should move on.
But Hodgson has persevered with the experienced duo despite the growing emergence of Smalling and John Stones.
Smalling started England’s weekend friendly alongside United teammate Phil Jones, and Tuesday’s high-profile meeting with France will provide Hodgson with a second opportunity for experimentation, regardless of the fact that on-field action will play second fiddle to the context of the event.
Cahill, 29, has endured a terrible campaign at Chelsea this season and like so many of his faltering team mates the former Bolton Wanderers man has failed to rekindle his consistency of last season.
Jagielka, 33, has recently suffered a medial knee ligament injury which has ruled out the Everton captain for two months.
With the Euros probably being Jagielka’s last major international tournament, Hodgson needs to start thinking long term and building a defensive spine around the Smalling and Stones partnership.
Smalling, unlike Stones, Cahill and Jagielka has been ever present in the Premier League this season and completed every minute for the 20-time champions.
His growth in stature and confidence this season has been highlighted with his willingness to pass forward – Smalling has amassed 409 forward passes this season more than any of his England colleagues.
After his rash sending off against Manchester City last November, Smalling has matured and learnt from his previous mistakes, whilst continuing to gain a better understanding of the game under Van Gaal’s stewardship.
United’s player of the month for October has produced 26 interceptions and won 33 aerial duels in the Premier League this season, more than any of the other three English centre halves.
If Smalling maintains the high standards that have been regularly apparent this season then it would seem a formality for him to be an influential figure for England for years to come.
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