Chris Smalling’s career at Manchester United has been one laden with untapped potential and signs of promise. The beginning of this season had favored heavily in the former. However, it’s been in the most crucial stretch of the Premier League title chase that he has turned the latter into fulfilment as he has been rewarded with a new contract with the club.
The 25-year old has penned a new deal worth around £80,000 a week that will keep him at Old Trafford until the summer of 2019. He’s earned it in convincing fashion marshalling a rickety United defence against Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester City, the last surely providing retribution for a maligned lapse in judgment in November at the Etihad.
Forcing Manchester United to play with 10 men for over a half against the defending champions, Smalling became a vulnerable scapegoat for their 1-0 loss. Already with some expectation to be among the collateral damage of Louis van Gaal’s rebuild, his red card seemed to vindicate any doubters of his success at the biggest club in England. Any notion of a contract renewal at that stage seemed comical.
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However, fast forward nearly six months later and you are looking at a man reborn. Chris Smalling in April is a man sold on the van Gaal philosophy. He is a ball-playing center back, a reader of the game consistently showing intelligent positioning and powerful clearances; all traits elusive to the United backline in the first half of the season.
He is the same defender that forced mediocrity from a Harry Kane that before visiting Old Trafford lit up Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea for five goals. He neutralized Liverpool secret-weapon, Mario Balotelli, albeit with the help of Kop supporters and has even quadrupled the Italian striker’s goal total (1). His resurgence has coincided with United’s best run of form all season and in that stretch the team’s need for a world-class defender did not seem so urgent.
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Chris Smalling has won over van Gaal. When selected, he has proven that he can be relied upon; something that could not have been said before the international break.
“Chris has improved and developed immensely during the short time that I have been at the club and has become an integral part of the first-team squad.” He will certainly need to continue to be reliable as United are expected to add defensive reinforcements this summer. But if recent form has anything to say, he’s more than ready to fight for his place.