Chris Smalling grew up in a household which had a mix of football loyalties. Mum Theresa followed Tottenham, his father Lloyd and younger brother Jason plumped for Manchester United while he supported Arsenal. Little did Chris know that his world would spin upside down in the most thrilling way imaginable just a few years later.
Smalling gives the impression that he is remarkably calm about the recent turn of events that led him to sign for Manchester United. He will move to Old Trafford in the summer, just two years after he left Maidstone in the Isthmian League, six tiers below the top flight.
Those promising feet are still planted firmly on the ground however. There is enough apprehension mixed in with excitement to prevent any sudden swagger. It’s been a really crazy couple of years for him.
The craziness peaked last month. His career was progressing steadily at Craven Cottage, and Smalling had been selected for his second Premier League start for an away match at White Hart Lane. Nobody said a word before kickoff as Fulham‘s management team wanted him to be concentrating fully, but afterwards he was pulled aside and informed that Sir Alex Ferguson had come to watch him and wanted to talk.
Considering that it was the eve of the Carling Cup semi-final second leg, with United preparing to play City at Old Trafford, Smalling was bowled over to discover that the manager of the Premier League champions would make such an effort just for him. Up until that point he had played all of 239 minutes of Premier League football.
“For him to come down the day before a big game was a huge compliment” he says “that made it feel incredible. I went up the next day to the Manchester derby and got to meet some of the players afterwards. I went to see the training ground, did the medical, and everyone was very welcoming”
The 20 year old had been torn when it emerged that his boyhood club was also in the chase but Arsène Wenger did not put in the personal effort that Ferguson did. “When Sir Alex came and met me and I went to go up and visit, I had the gut feeling this was the place for me to continue my football education” Smalling says. “My brother was just over the moon. Being a Man United fan he is going to want a few tickets. My mum and brother are so proud of me”
In the meantime, he is juggling plates again. When not focusing on Fulham, he is planning for Old Trafford. He has already started the search for a place to live, and wants to get sorted before the summer so he is ready to hit the ground running in pre-season.
Smalling has something else going for him. By all accounts his body is not fully developed yet with his 6ft 4in frame still to fill out. Manchester United just might have bought themselves a very big player for the future in more ways than one.
Will Smalling become a first team regular next season?