Chris Smalling was named Manchester United’s Players’ Player of the Year for the 2015-16 campaign at the club’s end of season awards dinner on Monday night.
David de Gea, who won the Fans’ Player of the Year award, was widely tipped to win this award for an unprecedented third year in a row, while Wayne Rooney revealed he voted for Daley Blind, who’s had an outstanding season at Old Trafford.
However, England centre-back Smalling has been fantastic for Louis van Gaal’s men this year and is fully deserving of the recognition.
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It often means more to players to be recognised by their peers by receiving an award voted for by their teammates, and Smalling has become only the second defender after former United captain Nemanja Vidic to win it.
Fantastic season for Smalling
Smalling has enjoyed a wonderful season on a personal note, producing some top-class displays and emerging as a genuine leader on the pitch. The 26-year-old has been an ever-present in the United team, playing 32 Premier League games thus far, in addition to every minute of both the club’s Champions League campaign and FA Cup run.
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His best performance of the season arguably came in March’s Manchester derby, where he brilliantly marshalled Man City striker Sergio Aguero and earned the Man of the Match award in United’s 1-0 win at the Etihad.
Throughout the year Smalling has made a huge number of tackles, clearances and last-ditch blocks to save United points that they sometimes didn’t really deserve.
The centre-half has become much more aggressive in the way he deals with opposition forwards, and his dominant style of defending has seen United’s supporters give him the nickname “Smaldini”, in reference to legendary Italian defender Paolo Maldini.
As well as his physical attributes, Smalling is very quick, and as the season’s progressed he’s read situations better and seems much more comfortable in possession when building up United’s play from the back.
There’s no question that his presence in the back four is a key reason why United have kept the most amount of clean sheets and currently boast the second best defensive record in the league.
Upon receiving the award, Smalling hailed his excellent partnership with Blind at the heart of United’s defence this season. The 26-year-old Dutchman has played more minutes than any other United player and the duo have made a combined total of 103 appearances for the Red Devils over the course of the campaign.
The ex-Maidstone United man cited consistency and remaining injury-free as vital to his excellent season and he also expressed his delight at being given more leadership responsibilities this term, establishing himself as United’s third-choice captain behind Rooney and Michael Carrick.
Smalling, who moved to Old Trafford from Fulham in 2010, has developed into one of the best central defenders in the Premier League and possesses the qualities of a future United captain.
The England international looks set to become a stalwart both for club and country over the coming years.
Has Chris Smalling been United's best player this season? Have your say in the comments.