Manchester United have beaten Arsenal in the transfer market by agreeing terms with Fulham to sign 20-year-old Chris Smalling.
The Greenwich-born centre-back – who was signed from non-league Maidstone 18 months ago – will join the Reds from the start of the 2010/11 season.
Smalling made just nine first-team appearances for Fulham, and has started for Hodgson’s side in the UEFA Cup and against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, not to mention that he’s an England U21 international.
Given the fees quoted for Smalling’s transfer (7m), there’s a good chance that the youngster will be accelerated into United’s first team squad and given every opportunity to prove himself the way Jonny Evans has established himself over the last two seasons.
However, it makes no difference to United’s plans for Nemanja Vidic – in fact it should be the younger defenders at United who should feel the need to step up their performances or risk getting shipped out. While Vidic is not the paragon of club loyalty, they are well-settled at United. Sunshine and ‘city life’ is hardly a requirement for a player hailing from Serbia and who played for Spartak Moscow before signing for United.
Selling him at a profit might seem like a likely scenario but it presumes that United would jeopardise performances on the pitch and that’s a risky gamble given how crucial footballing results have become to the club’s finances.
If Smalling progresses as hoped, he could be the future of United’s center-back partnership along with Evans, with both players seamlessly easing into the squad as Rio, Vidic and Brown get older.