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Who is Chris Smalling

last updated Thursday 19th November 2009, 3:12 PM
Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling
The road from the Isthmian Premier League to England's international set-up is a long one. But Chris Smalling has successfully travelled it.

You can be forgiven for asking: 'Chris who?' as he has yet to start a Premier League match for his club, Fulham.

But just like current Under 21s coach Stuart Pearce - who captained his country after jumping out of non-league football - the centre-half has done it the hard way.

Smalling has travelled from Maidstone United to England's junior side. The question is: Can he now take the ultimate step?

He is not well-known, even by supporters of his own club, but his second appearance in four days for England's juniors in Lithuania prompted questions as to who he was and where he had come from.

And, given Fabio Capello's preference to promote from within the camp, could the six-foot three-inch defender make the breakthrough into the Cottagers' first-team this season and put himself in contention to complete the ultimate footballing fairytale?

His manager, Roy Hodgson, paid him a huge compliment this season when he confirmed that he would not be chasing free agent Sol Campbell as he did not want to block Smalling's development. High praise.

And the odds are stacked against Smalling. But Pearce managed it. The current head coach knows all about life outside the game, having worked as an electrician while playing part-time with Wealdstone.

If only the defender, who celebrates his 20th birthday later this week, could force his way into Hodgson's first-team. 'He's out of non-league,' said Pearce, 'and Roy Hodgson speaks very highly of him. And when Roy speaks that highly of someone, then you know they are a serious player.

'He has been outstanding. First, prior to the games he has played for us, in training. In the games themselves he has been very solid.

'I like what I see. He doesn't mind mixing it. He's a good stature for a centre-half. He just needs to learn the game now, and the only way you do that is by playing matches. It's the only thing he's short of.

'I'd have no qualms about putting him in if Aaron Hughes or Brede Hangeland were injured on the evidence of what I've seen. That's not me telling Roy how to do his job, by the way, that's just my opinion.

'He wants to learn, which is a great basis for any coach, and the nature of the way he plays suggests that he comes from a background where it has been difficult and tough.

'It will do him no harm and if that is a strength in his armoury as he goes forwards, all well and good.'

Not only does Smalling possess something in his feet, he clearly has something between his ears, too. A grammar school education led to four B grades at A level and he had been accepted on a business management degree course at Loughborough University before offered the chance to go full-time into football.

'I was with Millwall as a youngster but as I lived in Kent it was quite a distance to travel,' he said, 'it was a bit disappointing, so I went to a club that was closer because I didn't want to miss training.

'It may be disheartening at the start when you find yourself in the non-league but if you keep your performance levels up and get to grips with the job in front of you, then you adapt pretty quickly.

'I thought I would get my chance eventually. I didn't give up. I had finished my A levels and was going to Loughborough to study Business Management. I was playing for Maidstone on a part-time basis. I always had the university at the back of my mind, I had the offers on the table. This has been a bonus for me.

'I'd like to set an example if there are people out there who have to drop down to non-league.

'There's always another level to kick on to and you never know what clubs are watching you, you just need to keep your performance level up.'

Source Neil Moxley at Daily Mail
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