The England international defender is out of favour at Old Trafford and is looking at a season watching on from the sidelines.
There is always a fine line with young talent – most clubs will want them to play as much football as they can and are usually willing to send them out on loan, but are also tempted to keep them in the reserves with the purpose of strength in depth.
Chris Smalling’s situation at Manchester United is a case in point. The former Fulham defender looks set to be used sparingly by David Moyes this summer, with others preferred in the starting XI, which will limit the player’s development and ultimately his chances of making it to Brazil with the national squad.
Established duo Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are seemingly Moyes’ first-choice central defenders, with Phil Jones and Jonny Evans waiting in the wings to take over if necessary. Smalling is flexible enough to play at right-back also, but again seems like the third option there. With Rafael’s injury, the Scottish boss has opted to field Jones on the flank ahead of the player in question.
It is a long season and Smalling will surely get chances to feature in domestic cup competitions, should there be injuries and from the bench on occasion. However, his development would have been progressed if United had let him join another Premier League club on loan before the transfer window closed, where we would have been given the opportunity to pay week-in, week-out.
There is still the option to send Smalling to one of the better Championship clubs on loan to give him regular first-team football, but whether the current England international would be willing to do so is questionable. He is obviously good enough to play in the top flight and sending him down a division could impact negatively on his confidence.
Debilitating injuries have played their part in Smalling’s dip in stature over the last 12 months. He looked like a tremendous prospect immediately after signing for the Old Trafford club, playing consistently and impressing in his debut campaign with the current Premier League champions. However, he only made 10 starts for the club last term in the league, the fewest since joining the Old Trafford side.
Think about the national team and the debate over young players that has been raging over the last fortnight, Smalling’s development has been jaded by the ambitions of a Premier League club hungry for success and the influx of foreign players.
At 23 Smalling still has a lot of learning to do and needs to be playing regularly to improve. Whether he will get that opportunity at Manchester United remains to be seen.
image: © Paolo Camera