Smalling joined Man United in 2010 from Fulham but injuries and being played out of position meant that he failed to maintain any consistency.
But the 26-year-old really kicked on during the 2015/16 season under van Gaal, putting in a number of top performances and making him integral to both club and country. Smalling believes that van Gaal made him into a better player.
“Louis is very tactically aware,” Smalling said.
“He really drilled us from the front to the back in terms of how we move, how we shift, and that’s helped me.”
There had been fears over Smalling’s future at United as he stagnated at times early on in his career at Old Trafford.
But the defender has done brilliantly to get where he is and he will no doubt be a crucial part of the team under Jose Mourinho for years to come.
There weren’t too many positives from van Gaal’s reign as United boss but Smalling was certainly a success story for him. The Dutchman’s exit was the right decision but some of his work should prove to be invaluable to United moving forward.