The Manchester United centre-back has hailed his fellow defender Antonio Valencia as the club’s best player this season.
Smalling has seen first hand the impact that Valencia has had on the United defence since reverting to right-back from being a winger for most of his career. The struggle for a long-term replacement for Gary Neville saw the likes of Rafael fail to hold down a starting place, but Valencia’s impact this season has transcended that role to the extent that he could break David De Gea’s hold on the MVP award.
Smalling told ManUtd.com: “There were two players I thought of voting for. Zlatan, because he’s been our talisman this season, the one scoring the goals. But I actually voted for Antonio.”
“I think Antonio has been so consistent, at times he’s been our outlet, whether he’s been playing at right-back or on the right wing. He’s been so dependable as well, not just in an attacking sense, but also when he’s been defending. Any winger or striker that comes up against him has to get around him. That means they have to be stronger or quicker than him, and neither of those is easy!”
Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera are two of the main competitors in the club website’s online poll, along with Smalling’s choice.
The 31-year-old Ecuadorian moved to Old Trafford from Wigan in 2009, and has made 290 appearances in the red shirt, scoring 22 goals in various positions on the right side of the pitch.