Louis van Gaal believes Chris Smalling is destined to become Manchester United captain. Smalling will be one of the first names on Van Gaal’s teamsheet when United host City at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Van Gaal called Smalling “stupid” last year for his performance in the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.
The England international was booked on the half-hour for trying to stop Joe Hart kicking from his hands, and eight minutes later he was dismissed for a late and needless foul on James Milner.
Smalling put the episode behind him and went on to establish himself as a first-team regular under Van Gaal, who handed the player a new four-year contract in April.
The United manager has been so impressed by the 25-year-old that he has tipped him to take the captain’s armband once Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick retire.
“Wayne Rooney is the captain and so you don’t have to worry and then (vice-captain) Michael Carrick, but when they are gone then Chris Smalling can do that,” Van Gaal said.
The former Fulham centre-back played a key part in United’s victories over City, Liverpool and Tottenham in the spring, which all but secured Champions League qualification.
And he has started this season in the same form. Almost a quarter of the way into the season, he is the only player to have started every match under Van Gaal.
The Dutchman feels Smalling has become more vocal and that has been crucial to his development.
“He has done it by himself,” Van Gaal said.
“There is a lot of advice. It is about how we defend as a team. He is a part of that and I wanted him to speak. He also has the talent to speak. That makes him easy to coach.
“Because of that I made him a leader of the team. He has made steps and also in a tactical way. When you give instruction in terms of organisation you need someone to understand that.
“David de Gea has the best view and then the central defenders so I demand of my defenders that they speak.”
Van Gaal’s injury problems were so severe at the start of last term that Michael Carrick had to fill in at centre-back when Smalling was sent off last November.
Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Luke Shaw, Rafael, Carrick and Angel di Maria — among others — suffered injury problems throughout the season.
Van Gaal frankly admitted he was to blame for United’s crippling injury crisis at the start of his maiden campaign.
“That was my fault”, said Van Gaal, who put his players through punishing double training sessions on their tour of the United States shortly after he took over.
“I was training them harder but they were not used to training like that.
I think they are more used to my training sessions. You can see that with the new players. You can see which players are always injured.
“In my career I never had injuries like that. I have always preferred small selections (squads). I think I have the smallest selection in the Premier League.”
When asked whether he thought his squad was too small, Van Gaal said: “No, it is not otherwise I would have had a bigger squad. I believe in smaller squads because you need perspective otherwise the motivation is a doubt.
“Last season we had 24 players. We sold 15 players and bought five. This year we sold again and sent on loan 10 players and only six players we bought.
“I think 22 players and three goalkeepers is enough so I am still one short.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved