Maybe it was because the Ashley Cole experiment colored our experiences of British players so poorly, but when Roma signed Chris Smalling on loan from Manchester United this past summer, people were somewhat skeptical he'd be anything other than a warm body. And for the first few weeks of the season, that's what it seemed. With Federico Fazio, Juan Jesus and Gianluca Mancini earning the lion's share of minutes, Smalling was left out, watching and waiting for his chance to prove his naysayers wrong.
And, well, that's precisely what he's done. While the rest of Roma's roster is riddled with injuries, the defense has been able to avoid that epidemic (knock on the biggest piece of wood), which makes Smalling's ascension all the more impressive; he rose to the occasion based on pure merit rather than the whims of his teammates ligaments, so much so that Fazio and Jesus are both now firmly second options behind the Englishman.
Since making his debut against Atalanta on September 25th, Smalling hasn't given an inch, going the full 90 in five consecutive matches. And rather than just being that warm body, Smalling has excelled, taking to life in Serie A like a duck to water (there's gotta be a more contemporary analogy than that, right? Maybe like a kid with allergies takes to a Portuguese Water dog?).
Chris Smalling: Is winning more aerial duels per game (5.8) than any other player in Serie A this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 25, 2019
For more player stats -- https://t.co/AcR8Rw7gqI pic.twitter.com/VOv3YtHMcu
Smalling and Mancini have formed an intuitive, active and effective partnership, thwarting attacks in the air, blocking shots, intercepting passes and providing calm and accurate distribution from the back. In a word, they're are the perfect pairing and seem to be developing a finer chemistry by the week.
Considering that United were all too excited to get rid of Smalling in the first place, I can't imagine this will be a contentious negotiation, but one simply never knows what goes on behind closed doors. According to Transfermarkt, Smalling is worth roughly €20 million, while his salary is a somewhat modest €3.86 million (gross).
Twenty million isn't an exorbitant sum for a 29-year-old defender these days, so I'll be more curious to see how the salary portion of this deal transforms (presuming they tack on an additional year to his deal, which runs through 2022 at present).
Either way, considering the timing of this leak, it seems like Roma are anxious to lock this up as soon as possible.
In his first year in Rome, Gianluca Petrachi has proven a master of finding affordable and effective players, and Smalling may be the best of the lot.