Chris Smalling’s fitness and fortitude has been questioned by Jose Mourinho this season, but the Manchester United and England defender does not believe he has anything to prove.
One of few to really impress during Louis van Gaal’s underwhelming final campaign at Old Trafford, the following season went awry for the defender.
Smalling was reduced to 29 starts across United’s various competitions, with the most injury-hit campaign of his career leading to frustration both on the part of the player and his manager.
Mourinho questioned the defender’s absence at Swansea in November with what turned out to be a broken toe, before calling for him to be braver when returning from a knee injury sustained on England duty in March.
There was speculation as to whether Smalling’s seven-year stint at Old Trafford could come to an end this summer, but the centre-back says there should be no questions about his fitness or attitude.
“When I’m sitting down with the manager and the medical staff, we set out a timeline and then we try to shave it and push and push,” Smalling said.
“That’s what we are doing because the longer it takes the less games you have.
“The manager has shown his frustration but we are just as frustrated. They are always trying to push us as quick as we can.”
Smalling played with pain-killing injections in October’s defeat at Chelsea such was his desire to be involved, saying it was “all good” between him and the manager when the severity of the toe issue became clear.
The defender said there had been no apology from Mourinho, nor he stressed was one necessary.
Smalling believes the United manager’s comments before the game at Swansea were “sort of directed at everybody” and March’s injury was just the “story of this season”.
“I think in the Chelsea game I proved that I can play with the injections,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t think any player is ever 100 per cent. There’s always something.
“Out of the whole squad there is going to be some niggle. As players, it’s not about always being 100 per cent. It’s about going on the pitch and doing a job.
“We’re always managing things – that’s why we have so many physios and getting your stretches and whatever – but yeah, nobody is ever 100 per cent”
Smalling returned from his latest setback to feature in six of United’s last seven matches, only sitting out the dead rubber against Crystal Palace days before helping the team to Europa League glory.
Asked if there was a moment he felt like he had won over Mourinho, he said: “I don’t think I’ve got anything to prove as such.
“I think he knows my character, he knows what type of player I am and that’s not changed.”
Smalling’s focus right now is on international matters as Saturday’s mouth-watering World Cup qualifier in Scotland looms large.
It is only England’s second trip north of the border since the turn of the millennium, with the defender starting the 2013 meeting there.
United team-mate Wayne Rooney scored twice in a 3-1 win that night, but the country’s all-time top scorer is conspicuous by his absence this time around.
“It hasn’t changed as such,” Smalling said of the squad. “We still have many senior players.
“Wayne is a big miss because of who he is but hopefully he will be back.
“I think his numbers speak for themselves and he’s still got a long way to go in his career.
“Whenever he makes up his mind what he’s going to do next, I hope he can pull on that England shirt again and score some more goals.”
While Rooney’s life with United and England looks to be coming to a close, Marcus Rashford’s is just beginning.
It is hard to believe it has only been 67 weeks since the 19-year-old made his club debut, but there appears no end in sight to the striker’s rise.
“The world is his oyster – he can be one of the best,” Smalling said of a player he had not been aware of until just days before his debut.
“You forget how old he is, how few games he’s played. But as a player he’s got everything.
“He’s quick, he’s strong and his temperament is fantastic.
“He can do skills as well, not that you see skills in the game, he’s a kid who wants to play football whether he’s in his room or in the changing room, kicking balls, knocking things over.
“He’s a fantastic talent and I’m glad he’s on my team.”