Smalling picked up Man United’s Players’ Player of the Year award this week following an excellent campaign in which he has established himself as a key member of the squad for club and country.
When Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney have been absent this term, Smalling has taken on the responsibility of the captain’s armband. The defender praised van Gaal for the role he has played in his good form.
“[The captaincy] is a huge honour and it’s great that the manager has shown faith in me,” Smalling said.
“It’s nice that, after Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney, I get the chance. It really adds to your own sense of leadership. It’s nice to win this award [for Players’ Player of the Year], but I’m looking forward to hopefully picking up another trophy at Wembley [after the FA Cup final] in a few weeks.”
Van Gaal’s tenure as United manager has seen a number of disappointments but Smalling’s form is certainly a huge success story for the Dutchman.
Centre-back Smalling had previously suffered at United due to injuries and being moved around defence but van Gaal has placed him in his best position on a consistent basis and the 26-year-old has reaped the benefits.
The challenge for Smalling now is to make himself an essential part of United’s hopes of success for years to come, in the same way that Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand did during the club’s last period of dominance.