If you needed proof of Chris Smalling's importance to AS Roma, look no further than the club's frantic attempts to sign the 30-year-old defender to a permanent deal late last summer prior to Roma's Europa League matchup against Sevilla. While they tried in vain for months to secure Smalling permanently from Manchester United, the negotiations became even more fraught with Smalling's loan expiring prior to Roma's Round of 16 matchup against Sevilla in early August. While it was far from the only factor in Roma's failure to advance, Smalling's absence in defense was noticeable in Roma's 2-0 defeat.
Smalling has struggled with injury and illness to start the 2020-2021 season, but he was practically indispensable for Roma throughout 2020, logging nearly 3,000 minutes across all competitions last year.
In 35 appearances last season, most of which occurred in 2020, Smalling provided Roma with clever and intuitive play at the back, leading the club in blocked shots, tackling percentage, and clearances, while ranking second in interceptions and aerials won. He also managed three goals and two assists in 30 Serie A appearances.
Many United fans were gitty (if not outright condescending) when Roma took Smalling off their hands in the summer of 2019, but, as the old adage goes: he who laughs last, laughs hardest.
Thanks to his stellar 2020, Chris Smalling successfully resurrected his career, landed a new contract, and became a fan favorite in one fell swoop. And with over 60% of your votes, he was an easy choice for our Defender of the Year.