Jose Mourinho will be reunited with Chris Smalling after being confirmed as the next Roma boss – and the defender will no doubt be keen to show he has improved with his feet.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played under Mourinho at United before being sent by Europa League to Rome, where became a fans’ favourite after some impressive performances.
Mourinho is to become the centre-back’s manager once again after being appointed to the Stadio Olimpico hotseat following his sacking by Tottenham last month.
And Smalling will surely be looking to prove his incoming boss wrong after Mourinho previously said the centre-back didn’t have the feet to play out from the back.
After United beat Ajax to win the Europa League in 2017, the manager known for his defensive set-up revealed he had instructed his rearguard players not to try passing it out – especially Smalling.
“We wanted to create instability. We would let them play out from the back while blocking De Ligt, their right centre-back, making them play through Davinson Sanches who had more trouble,” Mourinho said, according to Tribuna Expresso.
“We’d make our full back close down well that central space and if the ball entered a wide area for their winger, the full-back would close him down and Herrera would be the one covering that space in midfield. ‘
“But what matters is that my players understand we cannot have doubts there – defensive creativity only in emergency situations.
“We prepare a game better when we’re aware of our own weaknesses. Everyone said Ajax played beautiful football and that the beauty of the game matters. I told my players that, for me, beautiful is not giving our opponents what they want.
“I even joked with Smalling – ‘With your feet, we’re for sure not playing out from the back! That’s where we won the game.
“During the initial stage of build-up we never played from our centre-backs to our midfielders, because they are great at recovering possession pressing high. ‘In our midfield they didn’t recover the ball once. If the ball isn’t there, what are they going to press?”
Mourinho will take charge of Roma from next season after leaving Tottenham last month – so fans of the Serie A side should perhaps not expect any “defensive creativity”.