Chris Smalling speaks to MUTV this week.

Smalling: I'm fully healed from my broken toe

Chris Smalling is being treated carefully after his lay-off due to a foot injury, but the Manchester United defender is hoping to be involved in Monday's Emirates FA Cup fifth-round tie at Chelsea.

The centre-back sat out the 2-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in midweek after making his return on the pitch against his former club Fulham last weekend. After being troubled by the problem for some time, he is now firing on all cylinders and just needs to improve his match fitness.

Speaking at an event promoting his Football Beyond Borders project at Salford City Academy, he told MUTV: “I’m fully healed from the broken toe now. It was good to be available again on Saturday and get that game under my belt. It’s just about managing my next game and getting back up to match fitness. Hopefully, I’ll be available for all the games until the end of the season.

“Through the Fulham and Arsenal [home] games, I had injections and then I had more injections for the Liverpool game [at Anfield] but it made the injury worse. So then it was a case of getting it right and getting back as soon as I can but, first and foremost, making sure it was right.
Chris Smalling meeting some of the young students.
Chris Smalling presents medals to some of the students at Salford City Academy.

“When the injury got worse, I needed to recover. It was unfortunate I couldn’t get involved [when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took caretaker charge] but it was good to see the team flourishing and nice to get involved as soon as I got back to fitness, to be able to play a game and get involved as quickly as possible.

“The plan was to play against Fulham. Obviously, Tuesday was a bit too quick in succession to that as I’m making sure I can build up my match fitness as quickly as possible and, hopefully, I’ll be involved in the next one.

“Yeah, I think it does help [that Ole sometimes picks his teams in advance]. It’s nice to get your head mentally around it. Obviously, Ole’s been talking with the medical staff and it was always lined up that Fulham would be my first game back so I almost had that vision and the goal that would be the game I could make my comeback in.”

As for the next game, against Fulham’s neighbours Chelsea, the preparation has already started in earnest for a tactical battle against Maurizio Sarri’s troops at Stamford Bridge. United may not have the best recent record at the Blues’ home patch but Ole and his coaches will be hoping to mastermind another win in the capital after victories at Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Fulham during his tenure.

“This year, we’re making sure we get a trophy and, on Monday, we’ll be going all for it,” added Smalling.

”The record at Chelsea, you’re right, we’ve not had too many good results there but I thought, earlier in the season, we were so close to winning until the last dying seconds. In general, we played quite well there so let’s kick on and improve on that performance.

”Even if it wasn’t for both of our results we’ve had, I think it would be built up to be a big game anyway. The fact it’s Monday night as well means it’s got the whole world watching. They’ll be looking to improve on last weekend’s result [at Manchester City], as we will [after PSG], so it’s a big game all around.

After the disappointment in Europe, the aim is now to extend the unbeaten domestic run beyond 11 games. There is plenty of time to prepare for the FA Cup clash and work will be undertaken at the Aon Training Complex by the coaches to ensure a plan is in place to knock out the current holders.

“It’s something where, the next day after PSG, the full focus goes on to Chelsea and, obviously, we’ve got all the way up until Monday now,” he explained. “It’s almost drip fed that we’ll have a little bit of video each morning and then have different unit meetings – the defenders, midfielders and attackers – and pinpoint little elements so that, come the game, we’ll be fully prepared for everything they throw at us.

”I think there are many things we’ll be working on, be it attacking, defending, different moments in a game, our mentality in different games. Especially managing different times in games too. There are lots of things to learn but the good thing is we get to work on it every day and improve.”

Chris Smalling poses with co-founder Jasper Kain.
Chris poses for a picture with FBB co-founder Jasper Kain.

And what is life like under the caretaker manager? Smalling agrees that Solskjaer may not be the always-smiling personality as he comes across in the media because he has what it takes to take charge of the players.

“I think he [Ole] has got that sort of nasty side,” he explained.” I think every manager has that, the so-called hairdryer treatment when things need a little turnaround. A manager has to have all different sides covered. He’s a joy to play under and he’s great.”

The FBB project is one close to Smalling's heart as he recognises the rewards of combining football with education to motivate young people.

“I think it all started when I met Jasper, the co-founder down in Brixton and a had a bit of a tour and met a lot of the kids,” he said. “I spent the whole afternoon getting to know FBB and then it was something I felt really passionate about. It’s something, when I was growing up, that would have been ideal. So when I started speaking and talking about the expansion and Manchester being the first stop, it just felt like the perfect fit.

”Jasper has got very big aspirations and dreams and targets, and so have I. We’re hoping to take it to the whole country, step by step, as we plan to really go big. I think education is the most important thing. Football is the key to bringing everyone together. Ultimately, it’s the education that makes a difference.

Chris Smalling is a big advocate of the FBB project.
Behind the scenes with MUTV at Salford City Academy.

“The beauty of FBB is we create a lot of projects and, at the end, there are presentations and other things so, as kids, they can see it from the start to the finish. Whatever projects you were doing, everyone works off having rewards for what they are doing and knowing they are doing well. So we had 20 kids come up for the Brighton game and then I think it was 18 who came to Burnley. So we’re just trying to think of different ways to reward the young people.

”Growing up, I never had any role models as such but I think when I got into the position I am in now, being very fortunate, It was a case of making sure if kids looked up to me, I was a role model, and they could say Chris might be a good player but he did a lot more than just play football.

Click here for more information on Football Beyond Borders.

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