Smalling exclusive: How it felt to fight back at PSG
Fresh from his outstanding performance against Paris Saint-Germain, Chris Smalling sat down with us for a detailed review of the miraculous comeback in France, to reflect on what he describes as one of the best nights of his Manchester United career so far.
“riding the wave”of jubilation that is positively rippling through the club at all levels. As he explains, the victory has provided a major boost for the rest of this season…
Chris, Wednesday night felt like everything that is great about Manchester United: overcoming adversity, fighting back and giving youth a chance. How was it for you?
“It was an unbelievable feeling and an unbelievable moment that will galvanise us until the end of the season. We had injuries, the records of not coming back against that deficit, and at a big club like PSG. I think their players thought there was no way, going into the game, that they could lose. I think it all just summed up what this club is about. Obviously, in the changing room afterwards, seeing Sir Alex, seeing Eric [Cantona]... everyone was together and celebrating that moment. I think it was a great time to be part of this club, for sure.”
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“It was bouncing. I think everyone was just taking in what we had achieved in that game. Obviously, there was no trophy at the end of the game, but in terms of games and moments in my career, barring cup finals, that is definitely up there.“Yeah, it is, it's mental. The fact that we could score the winner in front of them, you couldn't have written it any better! After Rashy had scored and we had all gone into the corner, literally, I think I was shouting that much that I felt dizzy! I went into the changing room after and spoke to Luke. I was saying to him how I felt dizzy and he said the same thing as well. Moments like that, it is just a great feeling.
We saw those images of you guys celebrating with the fans in the corner after the goal. What is that like for a player? It just looks crazy...
“When Rom had scored, it gave us some added belief and obviously then they hit back soon after. We just had to relax a little bit and know that we had a game plan, and that we had to stick to it, and that the goal hadn't changed too much in how many goals we needed to get. I think we rode out a little 10-minute storm when they started to come on the front foot, and then we started to get a bit more control again.”
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“It was pretty chaotic. I think, to be honest, a few of us were telling the ref 'come on, let's get a move on' because a lot of us thought it was a corner and we knew we only had a few minutes left. Then, he said it was VAR, we saw it up on the board and we were looking at a penalty incident. My first instinct was that I was pretty shocked because I didn't even know what it was for, because I was back there [in defence], but it was a testing time. At least it was on the board so everybody knew what was going on. It was quite a wait. But, ultimately, with VAR you are going to have teething problems because we don't play with it every week in England. Ultimately, though, in the long term, I think it will be for the better.”
Did you fancy the penalty?
“[laughs] I think very few can be cool as ice like Rashy to step up then. Full credit to him to take such a good penalty in that crucial moment. It's the sign of a great player.”
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“They were terrific. Even the other lads on the bench as well - Jimmy [Garner] played the other day, and all of them have trained with us over the last couple of months. A lot of them have trained with us. Them stepping onto the pitch in such a cauldron, like the PSG stadium, it didn't really haunt them or faze them, so it's full credit to their ability as well.”
There was so much talk about PSG's attack and how it was almost impossible to stop Mbappe, and then you and Victor were absolutely immense on the night. That must be so, so satisfying?
“Yeah it is. Going into that game, everyone was talking about their attack and especially Mbappe because of the quality, world-class player that he is. But we knew we had a game-plan as a team to frustrate them at times and know that we would get chances on the counter [attack]. I think we could have scored a couple more goals as well. Ultimately, they might have had more of the ball, but I felt like we had the better chances. Full credit to the whole XI and the game plan, to stick to it despite times when we came under pressure.”
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How much did Ole, Mike and the coaching staff inspire that win? Because they were so bullish beforehand about the fact that we could still win...
“In the days running up to it, and in the team talks beforehand, Ole was bringing up a lot of previous memories in terms of what this club has done over the year. And he brought up the Ajax result the night before, which we all watched and we all enjoyed that comeback. It just seemed like everything was set for an unbelievable comeback. The belief that Ole, Mike, Carras and Kieran showed in us, we knew that if they believed in us then we could believe in ourselves, go out there and do it.”
Finally on PSG, I'm really intrigued by the morning after such a massive event, when you're at home, calm and settling down. Are you in disbelief of what happened the night before, and do you come crashing down to earth?
“Yeah. But I've not really come crashing down yet - I am still riding that wave and those good vibes, and I hope to keep riding them all the way into Sunday.”