Chris Smalling has admitted he wants to prove Jose Mourinho wrong at Manchester United after receiving criticism from his manager for failing to play through episodes of pain at various stages of the 2016/17 season.
Mourinho, on several occasions, publicly questioned the 27-year-old’s capacity for playing whilst not fully fit – something John Terry recently noted as a necessary pre-requisite for anybody under the Portuguese’s tutelage.
Both Luke Shaw and Phil Jones have been subject to this accusation as well; Eric Bailly was conversely praised by the 54-year-old for returning to action just days after limping off with an ankle injury against Swansea City.
And Smalling, when asked directly about this issue, insisted that he would always give everything irrespective of his physical condition.
“I think in the Chelsea game I proved that I would play with injections,” he said.
“I had done the injury, I played on and it turned out there was a break. I had a couple of injections but it got worse and that’s when I had the layoff. You always want to push yourself because you don’t want to let the fans or players down.
“Obviously he [Mourinho] didn’t know the full extent at that time. You just keep playing until physically you can’t and that was the story with the break. But I don’t think he knew the full picture then and once it was cleared up it was all good.”
“We don’t hold anything back, either for our clubs or on international duty, so injuries are going to come. It was unfortunate that we are obviously from the same club. That’s been the story of this season, unfortunately. I’ve been lucky in previous seasons not to be too injury-prone.”
“It comes back to the manager’s frustrations. When I’m sitting down with the manager and the medical staff we set out a timeline and then we try to shave it, and push and push … because the longer it takes the fewer games you have.
“They are always trying to push us as much as they can. The manager has shown his frustration but we [injured players] are just as frustrated.
“It’s good when he shows that frustration because it shows he wants you back out on that pitch. If he wasn’t interested, he would just leave you alone and he wouldn’t say any of these things. So I take it as a positive, as a challenge to get back as quickly as I can – which I would have done anyway, regardless of whatever was said.”
I haven’t been especially complimentary towards Smalling this season, but he deserves credit for playing at Stamford Bridge with a broken toe, which goes some way to explaining why N’Golo Kante was allowed to ghost past him and score.
Then again, perhaps I’m being too soft here: Mourinho has instilled this ‘Fight Club’ mentality at Old Trafford for a reason – to weed out those not sturdy enough to weather the vicissitudes of life at the very top.
Supporters, players and even managers over the last few years have come up with a multitude of factors to mask over the soft mentality of this United side in recent times. But Mourinho isn’t having any of it, and in the process has made a big step towards reinstalling the right approach going forward.