Young defender Chris Smalling has featured in all but one of the Reds’ Champions League games this season. In this interview he talks about his adventures in Europe and the progress he's making in a busy first campaign at United...
This is your first season playing Champions League football. Is the challenge what you expected and how does it differ to the Premier League?
The biggest difference is in the tempo of games. In the Premier League it’s all about attacking football, but in Europe you sometimes have to be a bit more patient. Even teams like Barcelona bide their time. You see the way they just keep the ball even it means going back to the keeper. They pick their moment. I think the way play in the Premier League can give English sides an advantage though, because we have the ability to lift the tempo in games and not all foreign sides are used to that.
French sports newspaper L’Equipe described your performance in the first leg against Marseille as ‘a revelation’ – were you happy with your display?
Keeping the clean sheet was a big thing for us especially in what was quite a hostile atmosphere. It’s nice to hear those comments and I think the experience I got from playing for Fulham in the Europa League last season has certainly helped me settle in the Champions League.
Looking back on your first season so far, you must be really pleased with how things have gone for you personally…
It’s been great. I’m not surprised by the amount of games I’ve played – I always hoped I’d get my chance – it’s been more the calibre of games I’ve been involved in which has surprised me. I really feel like I’ve progressed and it’s been great that the manager has faith in me to go out and do a job for the team.
What has surprised you most about life as a United player?
I think the size of the whole place and the spotlight that’s on you, but also the fact that it’s a real family club. There’s a great togetherness in the dressing room despite the fact there are so many different cultures. The spirit between everyone is fantastic and it makes it a lot easier for any new player to settle in.
You’ve been touted as Rio Ferdinand’s long-term successor – how has he helped you on and off the pitch?
He’s been brilliant, even if it’s just little chats here and there about my form, the experience he has of playing against certain players or his views on how other teams might approach games. He’s always there to talk, whether it be in training or during games or at half-time during a match he might not even be playing in. He’s a massive voice in the dressing room and I’m very grateful for his support.