Manchester United, on Wednesday, confirmed the signing of Sweden-international Victor Lindelöf on a 4-year contract. The 22-year-old had a brilliant 2016/2017 season. But what does his signing mean for Chris Smalling’s future at the club?
Victor Lindelöf had been a target for United for quite sometime now, having impressed with his virtuoso performances in Benfica colours. Lindelöf at just 22 years of age has achieved quite a lot since making his first team debut aged 18. His signing was openly endorsed by countryman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic who feels Lindelöf has come of age to move to a club of Manchester United’s stature.
For all his talent, I, for one, didn’t feel signing Lindelöf this summer was necessary. After all, United didn’t fare too badly in defence. In fact, the Red Devils had the second best defensive record in the league, having conceded a mere 29 goals. United, of course, did suffer a number of injuries particularly in the centre-back position, but there were a few who performed admirably when fit (think Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly).
One player who will surely feel threatened by the signing of Lindelöf is Chris Smalling. The Englishman didn’t have the best of seasons last time out, and that might as well have been his last in the famous red of United.
It has been 7 years since Smalling dumped Fulham for Manchester, having caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson who felt he had all the markings of a top-quality centre-back.
Unfortunately, those top-quality performances have come few and far between in his United career thus far.
The 2015/2016 season gave us Manchester United fans a glimmer of hope that he was finally becoming the leader we knew he could become. Smalling was one of the few bright sparks in a season most United fans would love to forget. He was able to stay injury free, and started 35 of United’s 38 league games. It was thought that he would kick on from there and never look back.
This past season, however, wasn’t so great, as he failed to build on his heroics in the 2015/2016 season. He seemed to lose the trust of his manager and that apparently culminated in him making a meagre 13 league starts – his lowest total since his teenage days. Smalling, you would recall, was singled out for criticism by Mourinho. The Portuguese felt the 27-year-old was not doing enough; he was being too cautious, and he didn’t like it one bit.
It now appears Mourinho has gotten a player who would put his body on the line; a player who would give a 120% in every game. Lindelöf 52 interceptions, 119 clearances, and 7 blocks in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last season shows he is Mourinho’s idea of an ideal centre-back.
Mourinho favoured the partnership of Rojo and Bailly at the centre last season, with Phil Jones and Smalling backups. And with Lindelöf now in the side, Smalling’s role will be even more limited.
As you would expect, rumours suggesting Smalling is on his way out of the club have been rife. A number of teams are already being linked with a move for the 27-year-old, most notably, long-term admirers, Arsenal.
Smalling’s contract at United doesn’t end until 2019, so staying in the club and fighting for his place is an option.
It remains to be seen whether or not Smalling will remain a Red Devil next season, but if he does, then he will need to up his game considerably if he is to be given a sniff at a chance to redeem himself.
Back Chris Smalling to stay at Manchester United at 8/11 with Paddy Power