Hands up, all you Manchester United fans who were starting to get slightly annoyed at Sir Alex Ferguson’s transfer policy, when he decided to spend £10 million on a defender who had only played a handful of games in the Premier League? I won’t lie; I looked on with raised eyebrows. I mean, they lost the title to Chelsea, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes stepped ever closer to the end of their careers, Cristiano Ronaldo was never replaced and United responded with among others, Chris Smalling. Surely the manager has lost the plot, hasn’t he?
How wrong were we? I appreciate he may not be the answer to the problem left by Cristiano Ronaldo, but he has certainly reassured United fans on a couple of other pressing issues. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, there probably isn’t a better central defensive partnership around. But Fegie’s side used to fall apart at the back without the calmness of the England captain – and Ferdinand’s absence from the side is becoming a little too frequent these days. His understudy used to be Jonny Evans – a player Ferguson himself has a lot of faith in. But just ask the fans what they think of the Northern Irishman and that will tell you all you need to know about how much they appreciate the emergence of Chris Smalling. He has overtaken Evans in the pecking order, and for a 21-year-old who was playing non-league football just 18 months ago, his rise to the top has been quite astonishing.
When United announced the signing, the then Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, stated what a brilliant defender the Old Trafford club had just acquired. I looked back over his recent appearances and saw that he conceded an own goal against Chelsea and looked incredibly unstable. I couldn’t quite understand why Fergie had spent so much on a player who was yet to prove himself in the Premier League. Again, how wrong was I?
The defender has taken to Rio’s role like a duck to water. He’s proved himself already this season by slotting in at home to Rangers and away at Scunthorpe. But if there was ever a stage to announce yourself as a fully-fledged United regular, at home in the Manchester derby or a Champions League knock-out tie in France isn’t a bad place to start. Former red Henning Berg, said he was impressed with Smalling’s defending against Marseille, but he needs to become more composed on the ball and distribute better, if he is to really emulate the success of Rio Ferdinand. I’m not sure I agree with this. At times, Smalling looks so laid back he is in danger of falling over, and as for his distribution, he is certainly a better passer of the ball than Evans or any other United player who would sit in for Ferdinand. The problem Smalling had against Marseille was the lack of options, which wasn’t necessarily his fault.
Ferguson looks as though he has once again proved many of us wrong with a great signing. Arsene Wenger has even said he was courting Smalling for a while, which is probably why United were so keen to get the deal done. £10 million looks like small change if you consider the future of United’s defence is now in safe hands. We should all learn to trust Sir Alex a little more really, shouldn’t we? Mind you, Fergie, about this Bebe chap…
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