One To Watch #15: Chris Smalling

Last updated : 09 October 2009 By Dan Buxton

Name: Chris Smalling

Date of Birth: 22nd November 1989

Position: Centre back

Club: Fulham

Previous Clubs: Maidstone

International apps(goals)

                                             England U20 1(0)

                                             England U21 1(0)

A promising centre back who proves that talent can be found outside of the league structure. 

Smalling, 19, started out at Isthmian Premier League side Maidstone but was snapped up by Barclays Premier League side Fulham in May 2008 after impressing in non-league. The Cottagers had to beat off competition from then Premier Leaguers Middlesbrough for the Londoners signature, the centre back committing for three years. Gareth Southgate came agonisingly close to signing the youngster, Maidstone even reported he had signed for the Teesiders two days before he put pen to paper for Fulham.

After not being able to settle in many league sides academy structures he moved to his local side, Maidstone, and decided to continue his education at Chatham Grammar School for Boys. He was due to start a course, in Business and Management, at Loughborough University before his move to Fulham.

He made his Maidstone debut, aged 17, against Canvey Island and played a total of 11 games, scoring once, before sealing his move to the big time. He also played for Kent during his stint in non-league and was put forward by his county to play for England Schools 18 side. He was picked by the Three Lions for their 2007/8 Centenary Shield fixtures, and got the chance to play against Scotland, amongst others, at Wembley. It is these youth international games where it is believed Fulham boss Roy Hodgson was alerted to the star defender.

Following his move Smalling improved consistently throughout the following season and the rave reviews he received for his performances in the development squad at Fulham , where he was made captain, saw him sit on the bench for the first team numerous times before his debut when he played the final fifteen minutes of  Fulham's final game of the 2008/9 season.

Teammate Aaron Hughes said of Smalling, "He's been one of the most improved players this year who haven't been on the pitch. He's big and strong and he's great at blocking shots. His improvement has come from his decision making. He's a lot more confident in training."

That first team debut followed hot on the heels of the centre backs first appearance for his country since his schoolboy days when he played a half for the England U20's a month earlier.

Greenwich born Smalling has played twice this season for Fulham, both Europa League ties, and was awarded the man of the match award on his debut away at CSKA Sofia as the English side came away with a one all draw. After that game fellow defender John Pantsil had this to say: "Chris was fantastic. He is definitely a player to watch in the future. I was talking to him throughout the game and he listened. He made some good passes, some good tackles, and he won the ball in the air. You couldn't tell it was his first game." whilst manager Roy Hodgson said the following “He's learnt a lot, one game like that in Europe against a team of that quality is worth a lot of Reserve matches. He made one or two mistakes during the game but was very quick to rectify them. I thought, if you analysed his performance over the 90 minutes, that he played with a maturity that I'm not entitled to expect from a player so young.”