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Keep On Smalling: Roma’s Newest Defender Settling Into Life in Serie A

C’mon Christopher, let’s put a smile on those faces!

SS Lazio v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I think it’s safe to say the transfer of Chris Smalling was one of the weirder deals AS Roma made in recent years. Yes, the club needed another central defender after losing Manolas and Marcano. They were left with a 32-year-old Federico Fazio, who came off a not so stellar season, and the always debatable Juan Jesus. Decent options for the bench or rotation, but Roma needed some more serious firepower at the back.

The addition of Gianluca Mancini was nice and justified: A young Italian CB destined for great things? Roma would steal one of Atalanta’s most valuable assets and weaken their CL rival? Suits me. This deal was practically done way back in January so Mancini’s arrival wasn’t a complete surprise.

However, the fans wanted something extra. They desired a real game changer, a stroke of transfer genius from their boy Petrachi. A deal that would make Juve, Inter and Napoli turn their heads and go full ‘Beyonce’-mode, saying: “Daaamn guuurl, U crazy?”. Toby Alderweireld for example.

Alas, that majestic deal never happened. Or so we believe.

Instead, Roma went for Chris Smalling. A centreback who was suddenly fourth/fifth choice at Manchester United after the record transfer fee of a certain Harry Maguire (FYI he should now change his name into Jerry ‘show me the monaaay’ Maguire). Him, Rojo, Bailly, Jones, Lindelof and even prodigy Tuanzebe: These guys were all in front of or close to Smalling in the picking order.

Now, does that say anything about Smalling’s quality, or about ManU’s crazy transfer strategy? Smalling arrived at Manchester in 2010 for an undisclosed fee from Fulham while most of his competitors at CB cost the management quite a few dollars. He was antique and the others were shiny new toy to play with. Right now ManU still has troubles in the Premier League and the fans long for the days of Ferguson, so I’d say Smalling wasn’t part of the problem in Manchester. Clearly everyone is/was shite.

So that brings us back to Rome. I reckon quite a few fans went ‘Uh, excuse me, what??’ after the news came out at the end of the Summer mercato. An English defender who’s almost 30 years old with zero experience outside England? Suddenly we had flashbacks and nightmares about Ashley Cole.

Smalling won a decent amount of trophies at Manchester, was a regular for the English NT between 2013 and 2017 and is a physical beast, but this was nowhere near our expectations. Why did we have to settle for the leftovers of a bigger club? This transfer didn’t make sense, hurt our feelings and in our eyes it proved we were right: AS Roma still isn’t a European heavyweight, despite Pallotta’s hopes and dreams. We can’t have nice things and just wait for the garbage of the others...

Worst of it all: Christopher arrived at his new club and almost immediately suffered an injury during training so he missed the first few games of the season. Great. I bet a lot of people in Manchester were laughing at us.

That, my friends, was one month ago.

After making his (solid) debut against Atalanta, Smalling impressed most of us and he was hailed as the best Roman defender that day. He almost scored a goal too. And last weekend Smalling didn’t disappoint as he put in a MOTM performance, helping Roma to a clean sheet and showing us he can be a dangerous weapon on corners.

Smalling is an imposing tower made from flesh and bones who wins nearly all of his aerial duels. He is a commanding presence in the box and of course he has enough (international) experience to guide and help his fellow defenders. After all, this is a guy who played 9 seasons for ManU, including over 200 appearances. Call it what you want, you’re not pushover if that’s the case.

Then again, Ashley Cole was also deemed a ‘star’ in England but failed miserably in Rome. Yet, I have a better feeling about Chris, he looks like a professional to me and really wants this deal to work out and get Roma back to the CL. It might be a bit too soon, but I feel Serie A is more suited to him than a ‘faster’ league like EPL or Bundesliga. Chris could really flourish under Fonseca and his tactics.

For now let’s curb our enthusiasm and wait until Smalling gets to face Lukaku, Immobile, Ronaldo, Mertens and co before we go on and say stupid things like he’s the English Aldair or nickname him the British Wall. But his last two performances look very, very promising indeed.

Just ignore those laughing ManU fans. In the end, we may have witnessed a stroke of genius from Petrachi after all and the Giallorossi could be the ones who will be ‘smalling’.