United have reportedly had a bid accepted
© Getty Images
Having helped fight a relegation battle with Maidstone United in the Isthmian League Premier Division in 2007-08, Chris Smalling now finds himself at the centre of a tug of war between two of English football’s most successful sides.
Smalling, who joined Fulham in June 2008 for a fee thought to be worth around £10,000, made his first Premier League appearance in the final 13 minutes of the 2008-09 season, introduced as a substitute during a 2-0 defeat to Everton. Seven months later, in Fulham’s final match of 2009, he made his first Premier League start, a match Chelsea won 2-1 thanks to Smalling’s 75th-minute own goal. His only other Premier League appearance to date came on January 5, as a substitute during the 3-2 defeat to Stoke.
Despite his limited playing time, persistent press reports this month have suggested Arsenal were lining up a bid in the region of £8 million. Roy Hodgson played down those reports last week; Arsene Wenger admitted monitoring the player but said “there is no truth in it at the moment”.
Still just 20 years old and having made so few Premier League appearances, many were bemused at the initial talk of a big-money move, yet Smalling warrants a closer look. Having shown real promise in his four UEFA Cup appearances, the Chelsea defeat - the unfortunate own goal aside - brought him widespread acclaim as he always looked capable of battling Didier Drogba and co in what is considered the biggest match of the season at Craven Cottage.
Standing at over 6' 4", he is a cultured, pacy, ball-playing centre-half. Reports on Monday that Fulham had accepted a bid from Manchester United, then, would seem to point towards him being an eventual successor to Rio Ferdinand. Nemanja Vidic has been heavily linked with a move away in the summer - and it remains entirely possible that Smalling is viewed as an indirect replacement for the Serbian - but, in terms of his playing style if nothing else, 'the new Rio Ferdinand' seems a more apt tag.
When Smalling might be expected to step up to the first-team at Old Trafford remains to be seen, but Ferdinand - now 31 - looks increasingly injury-prone and, if United continue to endure injury problems anything like those suffered in the first half of the season, it is highly likely that he would be thrust into action sooner rather than later.
The bid, interestingly, comes amid reports of financial meltdown at Old Trafford and, given the suggested cost of the move, indicates that Sir Alex Ferguson may not have been as economical with the truth as he has been in his transfer dealings when he suggested the club’s lack of activity was down to a lack of value in the market. Should Vidic leave in the summer, of course, talk of financial crisis will appear much closer to the mark.
Given Smalling’s inexperience, it would undoubtedly be a risk to expect him to form a key part of a title-challenging defence, but the potential is clearly there. He has already made three appearances for the England Under-21 team and, with domestic players in greater demand due to changes in Champions League rules, the move could yet represent great business for both United and Fulham.