Name: Chris Smalling
Club: Fulham FC
Debut: 24/05/09 v Everton (Premier League)
Date of birth: 22/11/89
"Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't make mistakes when it comes to identifying a young player," says Fulham FC manager Roy Hodgson. As a man who has won 11 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two UEFA Champions Leagues, Sir Alex's judgement is indeed widely accepted to be shrewder than most. So, when the Manchester United FC boss signs a player with just a handful of top-flight appearances under his belt, the football fraternity sits up and takes notice.
Former Maidstone United FC defender Chris Smalling only made his Fulham debut on the final day of last season and has added just nine league games to his CV this term. He has featured a further four times in the Cottagers' run to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals and played once in both the League Cup and FA Cup.
Such a scarcity of playing time has not deterred the powers that be, however. England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce handed Smalling his international debut in August, while United swooped in January to seal his move to Old Trafford this summer. Languid, poised and pacy, there is evidence aplenty to suggest Smalling can cope with such a rapid move from the shadows to the spotlight.
PFC CSKA Sofia 1-1 Fulham
17/09/09 UEFA Europa League
With just one Premier League substitute appearance to his name, Smalling had very much stayed under the radar. Hodgson, though, had no reservations in throwing the player into his starting lineup for the first group game of Fulham's European campaign. Smalling never seemed out of place and has not looked back since.
Maidstone helped in terms of growing up and handling the rough and tumble of the game. Most of the players I met had dropped out of the [professional] game. Knowing the other side of football makes me focused. I've seen where I could end up if I don't make the most of my opportunities."
"No doubt there'll be pressure [at United] but when you get to the higher levels of the game pressure is something you have to face. I'm just getting it younger than some. Hopefully by training and playing with those players [at United] I'll learn how to handle it."
"We've signed Smalling because he's a player of outstanding potential. We recognise and identify players in that mould and we act. He has terrific height, good balance, he's quick, and at 20 years of age he has done exceptionally well for such a short period in the professional game.
I don't see anything other than an outstanding prospect."
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
We've known we had a diamond in our midst, it didn't take long for me to realise in training that he had something special. Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't make mistakes when he identifies a young player. He pays a lot of money for that player because in years to come he realises it will look very cheap."
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
"Roy Hodgson speaks very highly of him and when Roy speaks that highly of someone, then you know they are a serious player. He has been outstanding. I like what I see. He doesn't mind mixing it. He's a good stature for a centre-half. He just needs to learn the game now, and the only way you do that is by playing matches. It's the only thing he's short of."
England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce
"He's a good boy, he takes advice. Mentally he is very strong. He's also the kind of boy who doesn't like defeat at all, and when he starts training, the way he trains is the way he plays his games, which is good. He does the training, he doesn't joke, he comes into training on time, he does well. After training you see him in the gym doing extra work. It's just the beginning. I think he has got a great future. He is going to be unstoppable, he is going to be one of the best centre-backs in the world very soon."
Fulham defender John Pantsil talking to UEFA.com in February
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