Belfast Telegraph

Smalling hoping Hodgson continues

Chris Smalling hopes his working relationship with Roy Hodgson will continue well beyond Euro 2016.

England have bounced back from their World Cup failure by recording seven straight wins and Smalling thinks Hodgson deserves to be rewarded with a new contract.

"Ever since I have worked with Roy, he has shown faith in all the players, especially the younger players,'' said the Manchester United defender, who looks set to start in England's friendly against Italy in Turin on Tuesday.

''We have all enjoyed training with him and obviously he is focusing on until next summer. I would be very happy to work with him for a longer period.''

Smalling has good reason to believe in Hodgson. The two have worked together for the majority of Smalling's professional career.

Hodgson jumped at the chance to sign the centre-back in 2008 after watching him in a trial at Fulham's training ground in Motspur Park.

Smalling had gone from Millwall to Maidstone and then signed for Middlesbrough only to return to London after becoming homesick.

A confident 18-year-old, it did not cross Smalling's mind that he would fail during that game - but he did have a good back-up plan.

"I had places to study Financial Economics at Leicester and Loughborough," Smalling said.

"I had an offer of three B's, which I was confident of getting, and I did. At my trial I had nothing to lose and gave it my all.

"He (Hodgson) pulled me into his office and it started from there.

"I can't remember the whole conversation, but Roy was very encouraging.

"I came back for a week to train with the reserves, and was offered a contract a month or so later.

"He's the one who really got it started for me.

"It's nice to rekindle that with England."

Smalling's first international call-up came back in 2010, but only now is he being talked about as a long-term option at centre-back for England.

After five roller-coaster years at United, Smalling is now starting to perform consistently for the club.

Louis van Gaal has encouraged Smalling to venture out with the ball just like one of the defender's idols Rio Ferdinand did during his time at Old Trafford.

"This year the manager stresses he wants us to take more responsibility with the ball, rather than taking the easy option and passing to the full-back," Smalling said.

Another trait from Ferdinand's game that Smalling is keen to emulate is the way the former England captain used to impose himself on games.

Smalling no longer wants to feel like he is a soft target for strikers and if recent evidence is anything to go by, he is doing well.

Harry Kane came to Old Trafford in a rich vein of form earlier this month, but he could not get a sniff of goal thanks to Smalling, who kept tight on the striker throughout and United beat Tottenham 3-0.

One week later, the 25-year-old stifled the attempts of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli as United claimed a crucial 2-1 win over Liverpool.

The image of Smalling bundling Balotelli off the pitch and then shouting at the striker with his finger pointed at his face became a big hit among United fans.

"If you're doing your job and not giving the striker much of a chance he'll probably get angry, and Balotelli is someone who can lose his temper very quickly," Smalling said.

"If I'm shutting down the striker I'm happy to see them get frustrated. I thought it could be round two on Tuesday, but he's not in the (Italy) squad so we'll have to wait for that."

It has not all been plain sailing for Smalling. He was berated for getting sent off in the 38th minute of the Manchester derby earlier this season and in January last year he caused outrage by dressing up as a suicide bomber for a fancy dress party.

"As a role model for young players you have to make sure you're on the ball. That's something you only learn as you get older," he said.

But he is now convinced it is his time to shine.

"I want to keep showing I can be that mainstay and I can be the main man now," Smalling said.

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