Chris Smalling has matured immensely over the past year to become a dominant figure in the Manchester United back four..

By Jamie Martin

It has almost been a year since Chris Smalling was sent off in the Manchester Derby, but the defender’s performances continue to erase that day from the memory of Manchester United fans.

Smalling’s actions on that Sunday last November were called stupid by Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal and made the front pages all over England. However, had Smalling not been forced to mature so quickly, he may not have emerged into the dominant force that he is today. Over the past year, the England International has turned himself into an imposing, strong figure in the United back four. He has gone from an immature, raw talent to a forceful, dependable center back. He has gone from public enemy number one, to captaining Manchester United on multiple occasions.

This season, Smalling has established himself as one of the best center backs in the Barclays Premier League, putting in consistent performances week in and week out. He has become a mainstay in the United back four, forming a formidable partnership with makeshift center back Daley Blind. The 25 year old has started in every premier league game so far this season, receiving a 7.39 average score from WhoScored. In the current Champions League campaign, Smalling has started every match and scored a match-winning header against VfL Wolfsburg.

Signed by Sir Alex Ferguson from Fulham in 2010, Smalling was touted as a replacement for aging center backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. His transition did not go so smoothly as it took the then 20 year old a few years to regularly crack the starting eleven. But with the departures of Ferdinand and Vidic in 2014, Manchester United was left short at the back. In a period of managerial change, United struggled to bring in the new faces necessary to strengthen the depleted back line. This left Smalling to compete with Phil Jones and Jonny Evans for the leading role in the Manchester United back four. With Evans ultimately leaving the club this past transfer window, and Jones having continual injury problems, there is no question that Smalling has won the battle. He is the sole center back who’s position is “safe”- though United boss Van Gaal would never say so.

Though Smalling has had his fair share of injury problems, it appears as if those issues are behind him as he has consistently featured in the United starting eleven over the past year. Looking forward, it would no longer be considered ridiculous to place the Manchester United man among the world’s great center backs. If his quality performances continue, he could eventually find himself captain of both club and country.

For England, Smalling has also established himself as a regular in a side looking to compete in the upcoming Euro 2016 tournament. With Chelsea star John Terry stuggling for form, Smalling could find himself as the leader of England’s back line. This would provide another chance for the United star to further enhance his reputation both on a club and International level.

For England to be successful in the competition, they will need Smalling to be at his best against some of the world’s strongest teams. The United man has proved that he can handle the best forwards in the premier league and will hope that he can match these performances when possibly facing International goal scorers like Robert Lewandowski of Poland.

The rise of Chris Smalling has been amazing to see. He has improved to become one of the most important players for Manchester United and England over the past year and continues to prove the doubters wrong every match.

As he has risen to a new level, what does the future hold for Smalling? Will he become captain of both club and country?

Jamie Martin is an aspiring sports journalist who covers the MLB, MLS, and the English Premier League. He is a huge fan of the New York Yankees and Manchester United.