Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not messing about with his clear out of the Manchester United squad. The latest unwanted player that looks set to be allowed to leave is Chris Smalling, who — according to multiple reports — is on the brink of joining Roma on a loan deal. The deal will reportedly cost Roma a €3m loan fee, but there are conflicting reports as to whether a €17m option to buy next summer will be included as part of the terms.
Solskjaer has made it abundantly clear what his pecking order is at the center of defense this season. Harry Maguire has slotted in next to Victor Lindelöf as first choice, as was expected after the former’s record transfer fee, but on the bench as back up in all three matches of the season so far has been academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe. After impressing on loan at Aston Villa last year, and in the summer pre-season tour, Tuanzebe has been rewarded with a promotion above senior center-backs Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, and Smalling.
At least one center back was expected to leave before the September 2nd European transfer deadline, but Rojo — who has barely played in two seasons — was widely expected to be the first to depart. Not only is it a surprise that Smalling is the first to go, but also that the defender is willing to sanction a move to Serie A.
In his decade (!) at United, Smalling has never fully convinced, and at 29 years old, is unlikely now to iron out the penchant for errors that has been a feature of his career. When fit (something he at least manages to do better than Jones) though, he has shown that he can be a capable defender if not asked to not anything outside of his comfort zone — like passing or running with the ball.
Still, as a full international, former player’s player of the year, and multiple title winner, he is entitled to feel that he is too good to be sitting in the stands or playing the odd cup game alongside kids and other back-ups. A move to play regular football would suit all parties, especially given Smalling’s sizeable wages, which United are not expected to have to subsidize.