‘I’m as good a defender as anyone,’ Chris Smalling tells England manager

Jamie Jackson in Basel on 21 November 2017

Chris Smalling has questioned Gareth Southgate’s judgment, saying he was surprised the England manager dropped him from the friendlies against Germany and Brazil for not being accomplished enough at playing from the back.

Smalling also insisted that if he continued to perform successfully for Manchester United, Southgate would be forced to select him for the World Cup.

Of those defenders Southgate chose for his most recent squad, he named Eric Dier, Harry Maguire and John Stones as being “even better” than Smalling at initiating the play. A visibly unhappy Smalling said on Tuesday: “I was surprised. But you don’t play for one of the biggest clubs in the world for as long as I have and win every trophy bar the Champions League without being able to do everything a top defender needs to do, be it playing or defending.”

Since joining United in July 2010 Smalling has won the Premier League twice, the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League. The centre-back has played every minute of United’s past 10 games, and pointed to his part in José Mourinho’s impressive rearguard.

“This year we’ve got the best defensive record and we have done for the last few years and I’m very proud to be part of that,” he said. “While I’m playing under José, he’s happy and I’m playing regularly, then I’m happy with that.”

Smalling hopes to force his way into Southgate’s squad for Russia 2018. “Ultimately it’s your club form that decides whether you play at a World Cup because there aren’t many England games throughout the season,” he said. “While I’m playing regularly and part of a very successful team, that should show come the summer. If my season carries on like this and we have a successful season and our team continues to concede very few goals, then I give him maybe no choice in the summer but to pick me.

“With United the spotlight is always on and there’s always going to be that pressure, no matter what the game is. Whether it’s the Premier League or the Champions League, I can showcase my abilities.”

Smalling is confident in his abilities. “I don’t really feel like I need to prove anything to Gareth,” he said. “Like I said, I play for one of the most successful managers in José and he’s only going to pick the best players. I’m getting a good run of games these last few months and I’m feeling good.”

Smalling is enjoying working with Mourinho. “As a team and individually we work a lot on our tactics,” he said. “A lot of it is done in the meeting rooms. He’s very in-depth how he analyses the other team and how he wants us to play. It opens up the whole understanding of how you see the game and the more that I’m working with him the more I’m feeling comfortable with him and doing his instructions.”

United play Basel on Wednesday night at St Jakob-Park knowing a point from their fifth Group A match would secure qualification to the Champions League knockout stage. Mourinho is resting Ashley Young, Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia for a game on a pitch recovering from the wear it took during the World Cup play-off between Switzerland and Northern Ireland.

Mourinho, who inspected the St Jakob-Park surface before his press conference, said: “I want to see after 20 minutes of the game – at this moment it looks OK. But at least I respect the effort of trying to make a positive pitch after [it] being so bad in the play-offs in the national team.”

Mourinho again criticised how Phil Jones’s thigh injury was aggravated on England duty. The Football Association’s medics are content they told their counterparts at United of their intention to give the defender a course of injections – he had six – and that no objections were raised.

Mourinho said: “The information from my doctor was that they consult him in relation to Phil Jones with a little problem in the knee when the national team starts working. But then no more contact. The local injections before the match, we were not informed [about].”

Asked if the hope was that Smalling would regain his England berth, Mourinho said: “I hope he doesn’t get his spot because somebody comes [back] injured – was injured.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will again be a substitute as he works towards match fitness after a knee injury. “Zlatan goes on the bench and he should come because he needs to play and because he’s useful for us,” Mourinho said.

Lukaku to compensate LA police

Romelu Lukaku will avoid the prospect of jail time by compensating police in Los Angeles for their repeated call-outs over loud parties in the summer.

Police said they arrested the Manchester United striker after responding to five noise complaints in as many days at a Beverly Hills residence where he was staying. The parties were held while Lukaku was on the verge of a £75m transfer to the club from Everton.

Lukaku will pay $450 (£340) to reimburse the force as part of a deal that will see the charge reduced from a misdemeanour which could have carried six months in jail, a Los Angeles court was told on Tuesday.

Commissioner Jane Godfrey, overseeing the case, said: “They are reaching a disposition in this case that the first thing that must happen is the defendant must pay Beverly Hills police department $450 for multiple response calls.”

The city will then reduce the charge to a disturbance of the peace infraction, which carries a $100 dollar fine plus other costs and penalties, she said.

As a misdemeanour, the charge would have carried the maximum sentences of six months in county jail or a $1,000 fine, the commissioner added.

James Eckart, for the city, and Lukaku’s lawyer Robert Humphreys accepted the arrangement.

The case will return to court on 18 December when Lukaku’s lawyer is expected to pay the $550 dollars in fines and compensation, a $40 dollar fee as well as other undecided penalties. PA

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