Much Old Trafford attention will be focused on a 20 year old defender who has only made a handful of Premier League appearances in his fledgling career. Sir Alex Ferguson saw enough potential in Fulham’s Chris Smalling however that he was determined to beat stiff opposition from Arsenal in order to sign the highly rated England Under 21 centre back for a reported £10million.
His move to United was confirmed in January and he ended last season by making 13 league appearances for Fulham. Smalling set off for Chicago with the rest of Manchester United’s 22 man squad this week at the start of their summer tour. It was the latest leg in a remarkable journey that has taken the player from non league football to the top of the Premier League inside two years.
One man who has seen Smalling develop from a raw teenager in the non league ranks is Maidstone United’s general manager Bill Williams, a 67 year old former professional goalkeeper at various clubs including Portsmouth, Queens Park Rangers and West Brom. “Smalling arrived at Maidstone after leaving Millwall’s academy and quickly began to realise his potential” Williams remembers “he needed the experience of playing at a different standard. He did that and has now gone through this rapid movement along the pathway.”
Williams believes that being under the guidance of Ferguson at Old Trafford will help the Londoner’s development immensely. “I had a meeting with Sir Alex and he felt he had got a little gem in Chris. He said he was someone with a few rough edges that needed to be smoothed off” Williams said of his former player “I’m sure Manchester United have the knowledge and expertise to polish him as a player.”
In the opinion of the Maidstone general manager however, Smalling could have benefited further from another season at Craven Cottage “I have been in the game since I was 15 and seen many players come through” he said “if I’m being honest I would have liked Chris to have played 40-50 league games for Fulham before making a move. I feel that would have done him a power of good. He has not played enough Premier League football and United will have to be patient with him.”
Williams naturally thinks highly of Smalling’s character as well as his ability “Chris has a good physique, is very sharp across the ground and a good reader of the game with a good touch” is his assessment of the youngster but “Not only that, he is very intelligent boy, a nice lad and quick learner. I know he is excited about the challenge.”
Smalling looks assured of a place in the United team at some stage of their five match tour with Rio Ferdinand injured and Nemanja Vidic on holiday after playing for Serbia in the World Cup. It gives the central defender a golden chance to make his mark in the side and send a message to Sir Alex that despite his tender age, he is capable of grabbing whatever opportunity comes his way.
Should Ferguson give young players like Smalling more opportunities in the Premier League?