Chris Smalling was ‘surprised’ and ‘excited’ by Jose Mourinho appointment as Rom manager even though he knew it meant their difficult relationship at Manchester United would be dragged out.
Mourinho has replaced Paulo Fonseca in Serie A as new ambitious Roma owner, billionaire American director and producer Dan Friedkin, tries to deliver on his promise to make him “one of the biggest names in world football”.
Smalling, 31, spent two and a half years under Mourinho at Old Trafford. He made 100 appearances for United during that time.
Yet much of the attention has been focused on a disagreement between the couple on Smalling’s willingness to play through the pain. Smalling said he was, Mourinho suggested otherwise.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Smalling is adamant there is no problem with the Portuguese.
“At the end of the day, if the manager wasn’t talking about you and didn’t want you to play and push, that’s when you have to worry because he stopped caring about you, he doesn’t want to not that you’re involved and he doesn’t. want you to play, “the center-back said.
“He’s a born winner. He likes to push everyone to their limits. That’s what he’s been doing throughout his career and it’s paid off.”
Like many observers, Smalling was caught off guard by Mourinho’s appointment to a three-year contract.
But he thinks it makes sense for a club that finished outside the Serie A top four for the past three seasons and haven’t won a trophy since a Coppa Italia triumph in 2008.
“It was a surprise to a lot of us, but there was an initial excitement from everyone,” Smalling said.
“I knew the media would develop something about our relationship in the past. But from a personal point of view it’s a good thing because I played under him.
“We’ve won trophies together. He named me captain in one of those finals – the 2017 EFL Cup final – too, so having the chance to play under someone you know is good, had so successful and being so determined to win trophies at all costs is a plus point.
“I know how big a problem it would be to bring any trophy to the club.
“Jose’s story shows the club picked the perfect man to do it.”
In front of the music
Smalling is set to begin his third season with Roma, having initially moved to the club on loan from United in 2019.
He remains the only Englishman in Mourinho’s team. And, while there are nine other nationalities after the arrival of Rui Patricio from Wolves, most of the squad are Italian.
Along with the backroom staff as well, it meant Smalling was having a tough run since England’s final Euro 2020 defeat to Italy.
“I knew I would have to face the music,” said Smalling, who has performed 31 times for his country.
“On Monday, a lot of people were quite respectful because they knew I would be disappointed. But now it started to take hold. [Leonardo] Spinazzola came in with his crutches and gave me a little stick. Fortunately, he kept his medal out. “
The foundations are in place
Smalling says he’s fully recovered from knee and thigh injuries that contributed to “massive frustration” at being limited to 21 games in all competitions last season.
And, while there is still plenty of time before Roma open their Serie A campaign against Fiorentina on August 22, he is confident for the future with Mourinho, 58, now in charge.
“For much of the last two seasons we have been very consistent and we weren’t far off,” he added.
“Now it’s about having the mindset to make sure that when we’re going through these tough times, and maybe we’re not creating enough opportunities, we have to stick together.
“Now it’s about finding that consistency. I hope that together with Jose and his team, we will because they are such a great club.
“There is a good feeling around the club. All the foundations are there. It’s just a matter of bringing everything together now.”