Manchester United star Chris Smalling downplays doubts concerning England’s defensive solidity ahead of Euro opener
Chris Smalling is determined to confound those doubting England’s defensive capabilities at Euro 2016.
A number of former internationals have suggested the triumvirate of Gary Cahill, Smalling and John Stones could prove England’s undoing this summer, with the latter coming under particular scrutiny after a difficult end to Everton’s campaign.
Such comments have been given understandably short shrift by Smalling, even if they can provide extra motivation.
“I think if anything it just gives you another challenge just to prove people (wrong),” he said ahead of Saturday’s Group B opener against Russia.
“There is always doubts, whether it’s with England or whether it’s with your club form.
“It’s just one of those that there is someone else that can come in and do a job better, say me or someone else.
“I think it’s just a time to stand up and be counted, and show everyone that you’re good enough – more than good enough – to do that job.”
Individual errors in the warm-up friendlies against Turkey and Australia highlighted that issues still needed ironing out, although Smalling pointed to the nation’s long-standing qualities of being “tactically aware and solid”.
The 26-year-old does not see England’s lack of a left-sided central defender as a problem – “at the end of the day we are centre backs and we are there to defend” – and is looking forward to pressing home that point in Marseille.
Smalling is a shoo-in for the starting line-up against Russia off the back of his best-ever season at Old Trafford, running the remarkable David de Gea close for Manchester United’s player-of-the-year award.
“It was one that was very consistent,” he said of a fine campaign individually, if not collectively.
“I always knew that if I can stay injury-free and just start the season very well, and get a good run, that I always could produce consistent performances.
“It’s nice to have done it over the last 18 months but it is about continuing it now, do it for many years to be considered a very good centre-back.
“There’s the ones like Rio who have done it for year after year after year, not just one year and then having a blip (the) next year.
“It’s about that consistency with central defenders, and that’s what all managers want.”