Former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic has insisted Chris Smalling can be a key player at Old Trafford in the coming years.
The Serbian, who left Man United in 2013, played alongside Smalling for three years, claiming two Premier League titles in the process.
Smalling was United’s focal point in defence under Louis van Gaal last season, but currently finds himself on the periphery after being sidelined for the defensive pairing of Daley Blind and Eric Bailly in 2016/17 season’s opening weeks.
However, Vidic believes Smalling can still be an indispensable asset under Jose Mourinho.
“He did well last season and he can improve and do better. He has the mentality to defend, and the physical size to do it. He likes to defend. With a good partner he can be even better.
“Is the game changing or are there not enough defenders? I’m not sure. Do we want defenders any more? Some managers don’t know what they want.
“I know what I like: defenders to defend. Defenders bring balance to a team and having too many non-defenders can lose that.”
Smalling’s presence in this squad is unavoidably important.
His playing style – powerful, imposing and tidy – brings calmness and assurance to United’s backline, providing an important platform from which to launch attacks.
It is Smalling’s overall aura, though, that makes him such a crucial member of Mourinho’s side: whilst the likes of Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and – to a lesser extent – Daley Blind come across as reasonably introverted characters, focused purely on carrying out their stated function, Smalling is the rampant general, marshalling the back-line by barking out orders and encouraging controlled aggression.
The 26-year-old is not just a key player at United; he is the club’s best possible candidate for captain once Wayne Rooney hangs up his boots.