Name: Chris Smalling
Twenty-fifteen proved to be Chris Smalling’s breakthrough year; the period in his Manchester United career where the 26-year-old showcased and fulfilled the potential a certain legendary Sir Alex Ferguson saw in him almost six years ago.
The England centre-half; who joined the Red Devils from Fulham back in January 2010, has demonstrated his captaincy credentials for both club and country with his commanding, reliable and impressive displays this season.
Many United fans feared the worst when they lost the formidable centre-half pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the heart of their resolute defence, but finally their anxiety has been relieved by Smalling’s emergence as a senior member of Louis van Gaal’s squad.
The former Maidstone United defender played as many games as he did in all competitions last season for the Red Devils by the turn of the new calendar year (29), missing just one Premier League outing against AFC Bournemouth last month.
Out of the 32 games Smalling has featured in this campaign; the centre-half has only been substituted off once in the 3-0 League Cup victory over Ipswich Town back in September.
Van Gaal’s side has come under fire for not playing fluid, attractive and dynamic attacking football this season; with United netting an unusually low 28 goals in their opening 22 league fixtures, but the defender’s leadership, alongside the heroics of goalkeeper David De Gea, has often single-handedly spared the Red Devils’ blushes in Premier League games this campaign.
Not only has Smalling become one of the first players named on Van Gaal’s starting eleven at Old Trafford; the centre-half has become an ever-present character in Roy Hodgson’s England squad and he is destined to play a huge part in the Three Lions’ 2016 UEFA European Championships campaign next summer.