Former England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson believes Chris Smalling’s omission from Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad is “a mistake”.
Smalling was one of the major absentees from the 23-man group Southgate named on Wednesday, though it was no real shock given the United defender had been left out of the previous two Three Lions squads.
Back in November, Southgate claimed there were better options at playing the ball out from the back, comments which irked Smalling at the time.
The 28-year-old helped Manchester United finish the Premier League campaign with the most clean sheets of all 20 clubs and he produced a fine performance in the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
Robson, who won 90 caps for his country, has questioned Southgate’s judgement in leaving Smalling at home, given he feels he is the finest pure defender England have.
“I was surprised,” Robson told Press Association Sport of Smalling’s omission.
“I know Gareth Southgate has said that he wants players that can play out at the back. But you find in international football teams also drop off and allow you quite a bit of time on the ball as a central defender. I think Chris could do that quite easy when he’s got time on the ball.
“On the other side of it, I don’t think England have got a better defender than Chris Smalling. People always talk about Chris on the ball but people should take note of how good he is as a defender, making tackles, great clearances with his head. Also, he’s very quick.
“Sometimes, because people keep talking about, ‘He could be better on the ball’, they take away from all the attributes he’s got as a very good defender. I think it’s a mistake not taking him.”
Smalling would also have added more experience to Southgate’s relatively young group given he was part of the squad in Brazil four years ago.
The international boss has instead chosen Smalling’s club colleague Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, John Stones and Harry Maguire as his natural centre-back options, with Kyle Walker and Eric Dier also able to fill those berths.
“You’ve got Cahill at the back, who is the only one with vast experience,” Robson added.
“I think Chris could have been in there. Me, personally, I think he’s better than a few of the defenders who are in there.”
:: Bryan Robson was speaking on behalf of Marathonbet, the official global betting partner to Manchester United. marathonbet.co.uk