Monday 26 August 2019

Smalling calls out Southgate on England snub

United defender baffled by decision to drop him

Chris Smalling, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nemanja Matic in relaxed mood during a training session yesterday. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty Images
Chris Smalling, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nemanja Matic in relaxed mood during a training session yesterday. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty Images

James Ducker

Chris Smalling has questioned Gareth Southgate's judgment, giving a withering response to the England manager's reasons for dropping him and vowing to make himself impossible to omit from the World Cup squad.

The defender's remarks came as Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho claimed he would be happy from a "selfish perspective" if his centre-half did not return to Southgate's squad after another tirade about the recent treatment of Phil Jones on international duty with England.

Southgate dropped Smalling for England's friendlies against Germany and Brazil this month after raising concerns about his ability to play out from the back and claiming that John Stones, Eric Dier and Harry Maguire were better at it.

Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, Michael Keane and Gary Cahill were also selected ahead of Smalling.

Furious: Jose Mourinho. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters
Furious: Jose Mourinho. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

Smalling, speaking ahead of United's Champions League tie against Basel tonight, admitted that he was taken aback by Southgate's comments.

"Was I surprised? Yes, I was," said an irate Smalling, 28 today, who has played every minute of United's past 10 matches and won two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League at Old Trafford.

"You don't play for one of the biggest clubs in the world for as long as I have and won every trophy bar the Champions League without being able to do everything a top defender needs to do.

"This season as a team, we've got the best defensive record (in the Premier League) and I'm proud to be part of that. While I'm playing regularly under Jose and he's happy, then I'm happy with that.

"I don't really feel like I need to prove anything to Gareth. Like I said, I play for one of the most successful managers in Jose and he's only going to pick the best players.

"While I'm playing regularly and he's happy then, I think, if we have a successful season and our team continues to concede very few goals, it will give him (Southgate) maybe no choice in the summer but to pick me."

Mourinho has his own grievances with England. The United manager was furious that Jones was given six pain-killing injections before the friendly against Germany and then went off injured early in the first half.

Jones missed last Saturday's 4-1 win against Newcastle and is also unavailable for the Basel game and the visit of Brighton to Old Trafford on Saturday, when Mourinho hopes to have Eric Bailly back from injury.

"I hope he (Smalling) doesn't get his spot back because somebody goes injured, he comes back injured," Mourinho said.

"There are other injuries where the players cannot play on the Wednesday (for their country) and are perfect for the Saturday (for their club).

"I say this in a selfish perspective but it is not a real perspective because what I want is my players to be happy and go to the national teams and an event like the World Cup."

Spoken

Mourinho said he had not spoken to Southgate. "No, I think it's a conversation between doctors and I'm not a doctor," he said.

"I just get info from my doctor, and the info was they consulted my doctor in relation to Phil Jones with a little problem in the knee when the national team starts working.

"There was no more contact and then the local injections before the match. We were not informed. Apart from that, I don't have to speak with Southgate. I just wish him well and want him to be successful."

Mourinho is prepared to play Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo tonight despite concerns about the pitch at St Jakob-Park.

The pitch had to be re-laid following Switzerland's World Cup play-off against Northern Ireland 10 days ago, when it cut up badly after heavy rain and was branded a "disgrace" and "unacceptable" by Northern Ireland's players.

Basel beat Sion 5-1 on the newly-laid surface last Saturday and Raphael Wicky, their coach, and defender Manuel Akanji have moved to reassure Mourinho that it is better than it looks, despite the odd funny bounce.

Mourinho said he was prepared to take Wicky's word for it and that the pitch would not deter him from starting with Pogba, or playing Ibrahimovic or Rojo, even though the trio have all just returned from serious injuries and he would not know until the game was under way whether the surface was an issue.

Mourinho has encountered pitch problems in Beijing, Odessa and Rostov since taking over as United manager and said the St Jakob-Park surface was far better than that which his team had to play on in Rostov last season.

"I have to believe in this moment, and I am more comfortable, in the (Basel) manager's experience and in his vision, so in this moment I am much more comfortable than I was before," Mourinho said.

"Last season we had to cope with Rostov, and I don't think it's comparable, so hopefully everything goes well.

"I gave it a look but honestly I don't know. I want to see after 20 minutes. At this moment it looks OK but let's see after 20 minutes.

"But at least I respect the effort of trying to make a positive pitch after it being so bad in the play-offs in the national team."

United will qualify for the knockout stage if CKSA Moscow fail to beat Benfica earlier in the day and can clinch top spot in Group A with a point. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Basel v Manchester United, Live, BT Sport, 7.45

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