Chris Smalling accepts he will have to stand aside when Rio Ferdinand is fit but for now the youngster is having the ride of his life at Manchester United.
The 20-year-old started his fifth Champions League game of the season on Wednesday night and produced another outstanding display in United's otherwise disappointing goalless draw with Marseille. How long Smalling retains his spot depends on Ferdinand's recovery from the calf injury he suffered at the beginning of the month.
"When you get the shirt and a position in the team you don't want to give it up," he said. "I understand that Rio is the main man. But when he got injured it was time for me to step up."
The former Fulham player is not conceited enough to believe he can keep the England captain out of Sir Alex Ferguson's first-choice starting line-up at present. However, he is certainly providing the United boss with concrete evidence that a replacement is at hand whenever Ferdinand's body lets him down.
He added: "They are big shoes to fill. Hopefully through my performances and the sort of games and massive occasions I have been playing in, I repay the manager's faith and justify him playing me.
"I know I will have to bide my time but I am always going to be ready because no player wants to be sitting on the bench."
Without displaying any trace of arrogance, Smalling exudes a quiet assurance that belies his age and lack of experience.
Not for him the usual platitudes about being happy with Wednesday night's result but wary of Marseille being a dangerous foe in the second leg on March 15.
"We were all really disappointed," he said. "In the dressing room, it felt like we had lost.
"Everyone was dejected but we are pretty confident of going back to Old Trafford and finishing the job."
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