Chris Smalling’s reinvention as a (whisper it) world class centre-half has been one of the remarkable stories of the Serie A season.
Sporting some fantastic new dreadlocks, the Manchester United defender threw himself into life at Roma with everything he had, gearing himself up for a career swansong that few could ever have predicted 12 months ago…when he was behind Phil Jones in the Old Trafford pecking order.
But he won’t be back at Roma for a second season, or so it would seem after he took to Twitter to say his goodbyes. He’ll have plenty of options on the table after an impressive season, however – so where will he end up next?
The Gunners, now operating with slightly loosened purse strings after an FA Cup win and subsequent Europa League qualification, are on the lookout for defensive reinforcements.
They’ve been pretty heavily linked with Smalling throughout his time in Italy and are believed to be big fans of the 30-year-old, though all has gone a little quiet since March, when they were said to have made an enquiry as to his availability.
He may not be the sort of ball-playing defender Mikel Arteta encourages, but on this season’s evidence, he’d at least be a major improvement on David Luiz.
Oh yeah. You’d better believe it.
Inter love an out-of-fashion Premier League player on the wrong side of 30 like the rest of us love a warm cup of coffee on a bitter Monday morning. It’s a formula that weirdly kind of works for them; who’d have thought Ashley Young and Alexis Sanchez would come good?
Smalling has the distinction of having adjusted to Italian football too. With Man Utd reportedly keen on Milan Skriniar, it’s really no surprise that the Nerazzurri seem to be keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.
Similar to their mates in north London, Spurs were believed to hold an interest in Smalling pre-lockdown, but there hasn’t been much to work with since.
José Mourinho took a tongue-in-cheek swipe at his ability with the ball at his feet (or lack thereof) claiming to have told the defender before United’s 2017 Europa League final with Ajax: “With your feet, we’re for sure not playing out from the back!”
What that says about his chances of earning a move here remains to be seen – but there is a vacancy for an experienced defender with Jan Vertonghen moving on.
The ship may have sailed on this one along with the torpedoing of Newcastle’s Saudi Arabian takeover, but 90min learned back in May that the Magpies were looking at Smalling as part of a strategy to recruit home-grown players this summer.
John Stones was another target, but he looks an impossibility if there is to be no Man City-style investment.
Smalling, you wouldn’t quite rule out, but it’s hard to imagine Newcastle ranking high in his thinking when it comes to decision time.
Yeah, this one is a bit weird.
They like a head-scratching swap deal in Italy, and Calcio Mercato have claimed that Juve could offer out-of-favour winger Federico Bernardeschi in a bid to secure Smalling’s services.
The report claims that Juve value 26-year-old Bernardeschi at €35m, while United want €20m for Smalling, yet seems to suggest the Italian giants are prepared to negotiate a straight swap.
The jury is dubious on this one, given that Juve’s central defensive options include Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Matthijs de Ligt, Daniele Rugani and Merih Demiral.
I mean if all else fails, there’s always a chance.
United will want to generate a fee for Smalling, as well as clear his pretty significant wages off the bill, as they look to close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City with another summer of spending.
If it so happens that they struggle to recruit a new centre-back, however, they could yet bring Smalling back into the fold to compete with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.