The story and career of Chris Smalling is a football fairytale. Between 2008 and 2011, he rose from National League South side Maidstone United to making his senior international debut as a Manchester United player.
If such a rapid rise to glory and silverware wasn’t enough, this week, England’s all-time top goalscorer Wayne Rooney has rated Smalling as ‘in the top three centre-halves in the world'.
In a statement on the United website, Rooney said: "He has been incredible and for me he is right up there in world football in terms of centre-halves.
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“He is in the top three centre-halves in the world – I think he is that good! He is a great player and he is developing to become more of a leader of the back four. It is great to see for both United and England, and hopefully that can continue for him and he can help us to be successful.”
These comments arose after Smalling battled for 90 minutes to keep out Manchester City in a scrappy clash at the weekend. The 25-year-old’s efforts helped the Red Devils keep a clean sheet in a goalless affair at Old Trafford.
This week has seen a crescendo of praise for the ex-Fulham defender, who has experienced a superb season in United’s ever-evolving back line.
Although never far from the United first-team, Smalling has rapidly improved ever since his infamous red card against City in November 2014.
Van Gaal has shown great faith in the centre-back who has played every single minute of United’s Premier League campaign this year.
Such consistent and dominant performances are guiding the Greenwich-born defender to add to his 20 England caps as well as becoming one of the first names on his club manager's team sheet.
There is little doubt Smalling is proving a defensive juggernaut for United this season and the past few days have seen him bestowed with great praise.
Suggested as United’s next captain and hailed as being in the top three centre backs in the world - not bad for a player who was gracing the pitch of Braintree Town only seven years ago.