While Manchester United fans have never been completely enamoured with Chris Smalling, the same cannot be said for the hierarchies of Serie A sides. Calciomercato are reporting that Juventus are looking to sign the 30-year-old, and are willing to offer Federico Bernardeschi in a swap deal.
Smalling has spent the last year in Italy with Roma where he impressed but is poised to return to Old Trafford. The Italian side are keen to keep the 30-year-old on a permanent basis but have been unable to agree a fee with United which could open the door for Juventus.
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Smalling is due back in England this week. If they want him to stay, another deal is going to have to be struck. So why the clamour for a player United are seemingly so keen to get off their hands? We get the expert view from Eurosport's Lorenzo Rigamonti in Italy to look at Smalling's contribution this season, and his chances of securing a Serie A return.
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HOW DID SMALLING GET ON THIS SEASON?
Smalling proved to be a solid defender for Roma during the course of 2019/2020 season. He was the main defensive man for Roma coach Paulo Fonseca, with 37 appearances overall. He managed to play really well in the heart of the three-man defensive line. He was a key player in certain crucial moments of the season: he made a save right on the goal line in a match against SPAL and his header against Torino sealed the Giallorossi qualification to the next Europa League. Although he played really well, I don’t think he made a considerable impact on Roma’s defensive performances: Fonseca’s team gave away 55 goals this season. It wasn’t Smalling fault, but he didn’t save Roma from suffering defensively either.
DOES HE HAVE A CHANCE OF STAYING IN ITALY?
I think it’s really difficult to predict his future at the moment. He definitely wants to go back to Rome through a permanent deal, but Roma’s financial situation is really complicated.
The club is up for sale, and the current owner - James Pallotta - is going through a really tough and long negotiation. In the meantime, Roma can’t afford to risk much on the market, especially if Manchester United set a high price on Smalling. I believe Jan Vertonghen – a free agent at the moment – could be a more affordable and realistic profile for Roma. Vertonghen would carry the same level of experience as Smalling.
WHY DO ITALIAN CLUBS SEEM IMPRESSED WITH SMALLING?
I think that Italian clubs like his profile because of his physical abilities: he’s really strong and Serie A’s defenders tend/need to be really tough on strikers. But the main reason lies in his experience, especially in European competitions: let’s take Roma as an example; without Smalling, Fonseca will be forced to play Sevilla with Gianluca Mancini, Ibanez and Aleksandar Kolarov as the three defenders. Other than Kolarov, Mancini and Ibanez there are only really young players who cannot guarantee the level of experience and mental toughness as Smalling in order to get to Europa League finals. If you want to compete at a European level, veterans like Smalling can be really useful.
IS JUVENTUS A GOOD FIT FOR HIM?
I don’t think Juve really needs Smalling, and especially I don’t think that Smalling needs Juventus. There’s already a lot of competition in that defence. Matthijs De Ligt is a really young, talented player who will be a starter for years to come. Leonardo Bonucci - who is 33-years-old - proved to be the healthiest defender for Maurizio Sarri. Giorgio Chiellini is still the leader, even though he probably won’t be able to play as much as 15/20 games per season from now on.
There's space for Smalling, but this space is limited for a guy with that much talent. He’s 30 years old, and Juve are currently trying to insert young and fresh players in the mix. The only way this would make sense would be through a convenient swap deal, and Fabio Paratici sometimes evaluates economic advantages more than tactical aspects. So, if the Smalling-Bernardeschi swap ends up to be cheap, there could be a chance. Even though I don’t see that much space for Smalling in a club like Juventus.