Talent Watch: Chris Smalling

Maidstone United får nok selv den mest hardcore fodboldfan til at se dum ud og ytre “Huh?”.

Sidste sæson endte klubben som nummer 15 i Isthmian League Premier Division, som er den syvende bedste række i England.!

Ikke just nogen talentfabrik, hvor Premier League klubber valfarter til for at headhunte talenter;….. skulle man tro.

I sæsonen 2007/08 løb en 192 centimeter Chris Smalling ganske ubemærket rundt hos Maidstone, og den unge kolos regnede nok ikke med den overraskende vending, som sommeren skulle tage.

Unge Smalling var dog ikke helt forsvundet fra radaren, da han under sit Maidstone ophold var blevet udtaget til flere udvalgte hold i England, men ikke desto mindre var sommerens skifte til Fulham FC et bemærkelsesværdigt skridt i forsvarsspillerens korte karriere.

Chris Smalling har på trods af det store skridt op til Premier League imponeret alt og alle siden sin tiltræden i ligaen, og fik allerede sin Premier League debut i en kamp mod Everton i maj.

Siden da er fulgt flere Europa Cup kampe og enkelte PL optrædener, hvor Smalling har holdt højt niveau til stor jubel for Fulhams fans.

Derudover har Smalling for nyligt kæmpet sig ind i Stuart Pearces U21 trup, og inden da havde forsvarsspilleren også fået sin ilddåb på U20 landsholdet.

Smalling har dog, ifølge ham selv, fødderne solidt plantet på jorden:

“I’ve got my feet firmly on the ground though and know that there’s a lot more hard work ahead of me to get a chance in the first team here.”

Udover det åbenlyse fodbold-talent, er selvtilliden også en vigtig faktor, og Smalling tror fuldt og fast på egne evner, hvilket også er nødvendigt i en benhård branche som Premier League professionel:

“In a year I’ve gone from playing non-league with Maidstone United to being included in the first team squad at Fulham for the last few Premiership games, so yeah I suppose you could say I’ve surprised a few, but I’ve always been confident enough in my ability and what I can achieve.”

Smalling havde det, på trods af interessen fra større klubber, som blommen i et æg hos Maidstone, og det skulle være det helt rigtige tilbud, der kom på bordet, hvis non-league klubben skulle skiftes ud:

“It was a big decision for me, I knew that when I left Maidstone United it had to be the right move, to a club that I felt I wanted to be at, and where I could see a chance for me to progress.”

Valget faldt på Fulham efter en snak med vores gentleman af en manager, Roy Hodgson, som Smalling selv har stor respekt for:

“Roy was fantastic with me; he watched me in training and during a match and then invited me to his office to talk about the club and how he saw me having a future here.

He has so much experience as a manager and has worked with some of the best players in the world, so it was a great buzz when he said he liked how I played and that he wanted me to sign for the club. As a young player it gives you a massive confidence boost and I’m determined to re-pay his faith in me.”

På trods af Roy Hodgsons tillid og tro på egne evner har skiftet været en stor udfordring for Smalling, selvom vi andre måske ikke kan se det på hans præstationer.

Især det høje tekniske niveau har givet Smalling problemer, men ifølge spilleren selv har det givet ham værdifuld erfaring at spille på reserveholdet med hensyn til at tilpasse sig niveauet i de professionelle rækker:

 “It’s certainly a lot more technical. A lot of the players you come up against are first team players, so you know they have quality. Some people think reserve football is a bit of a waste of time, but I’ve benefited from the games I’ve played in and it’s helped me adapt and refine my game.”

De højst kompetente kollegaer i Fulhams midterforsvar, Fulhams trænerteam og kaptajn Danny Murphy har også været med til at udvikle unge Smalling, som er fuld af beundring for sine ældre kollegaer:

“It’s been good; you always want to test yourself against the best in your position and at Fulham we have a lot of quality defenders, so it’s great for me to train with them and pick up a few things here and there. The coaches at Fulham are fantastic as well, and I’ve noticed my game improve so much already training and playing with the likes of Brede, you learn things just watching them, reading the game, positioning etc..

Danny is also a great influence around the club, he has played at the top level and he is always on hand to give a word of advice and encourage the younger players. But all the players get on well, and the senior boys help us out during training and around the club.”

Omkring chancerne for at finde en ny Chris Smalling, er forsvarsspilleren selv ikke i tvivl om, at talentet ér i non-league fodbold; det gælder bare om at finde spillerne og give dem en chance for at vise sig frem på et højere niveau:

“I think there is definitely talent to be found out there. Players like Jermaine Beckford at Leeds United, Chris Dickson at Charlton and Michael Kightly at Wolves have all come from non-league clubs and they are doing really well so it shows the quality that non-league can produce.

I think it’s just getting clubs to give the boys a chance. It is hard at non-league level, but you have to keep confident that you can make it and certainly there’s enough examples to prove it can be done, it’s not an impossible dream anymore.”

Chris Smalling har i denne sæson indtil videre optrådt tre gange i den hvide Fulham-trøje, og mon ikke det bliver til endnu flere optrædener i den nære (og fjerne) fremtid.

Kilde: Tribalfootball.com

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