Chris Smalling claims staying at Manchester United would have been “the easy decision” and is determined to star as a ball-playing defender for Roma.
Smalling is one of few English players to have taken the plunge abroad, and he is ready to fully immerse himself into life at Roma, having rejected a bit-part role with United.
“You do see very few English players going abroad and those that do are largely good players otherwise they wouldn’t have gone,” he told The Telegraph.
“But I feel a lot of their downfall is in the language. On the pitch you can learn the different basics of ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘behind you’ but off the pitch you want to have that influence around the team.
“We will be traveling together as a team so it is important to communicate as much as I can. That helps me be more comfortable around my teammates. It makes the experience a lot better.
“Maybe where some English players are not fully committed to the language, off the pitch it is a big divide. By learning I can bring us closer and get to know them as soon as I can.
“[Ole Gunnar Solskjaer] said I would get games. I am used to playing when I am fit. Although that might have been slightly different this season.
“I would have had the cup games and then in the League, depending on injuries. Would it have been the 40-50 games that I am used to if fit? It might have been the 20-30. Still a good number of games but I want to play.
“I love a challenge and when a new centre-back comes in [Harry Maguire] it makes you raise your game. You have to show more, you have to be more consistent.
“If I had stayed I would have taken on that challenge and I would have been very confident that I would have played the number of games that I was worthy of.
“Equally I have a challenge here at Roma. Going back [at the end of the season] I will have an added element that some of the centre-backs won’t have.
“The easy decision was to stay. This is the perfect opportunity to try and live in a different culture. In that respect it is like a total change, although football is still the same football.”
The 29-year-old joined United from Fulham in 2010 and won two Premier League titles, prior to a marked decline after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
“My period [at the club] is full of ups and downs. The Sir Alex period and then the number of managers who have come subsequently.
“As players it can be tough, you are so used to something and then different managers… it is definitely a challenge.
“It was something I took on each season whoever the manager was. It was about proving yourself to that manager.
“Because of the expectations, as well, I think sometimes we didn’t always meet them. And sometimes we did with some of the cups.
“It was definitely an interesting time and I have learned from each manager. It has definitely helped me as a player.”
Smalling was dropped by England in November 2017, with CT Gareth Southgate suggesting there were other centre-backs more capable of building up play.
“I am disappointed. I was used to going to England. I was playing regularly for United up to when I left.
“The aspiration is always there. Ultimately it is down to the manager’s choice. What was said was maybe unfair at times and managers [who have picked me] at United are some of the world-class ones.
“Some of the things that maybe he [Southgate] mentioned… I feel even the managers who have been brought in at United have certain ways of playing and some of them are quite similar to Gareth. I guess football is a game of opinions.
“I am definitely not going to agree with him and he might not agree with some of the things that I would say back.
“Ultimately I would never close that door and hopefully work my way in at some point. It is looking slim under Gareth but never say never.”
Finally, he commented on the racism storm that has again engulfed Italian football.
“Our voices as players need to be heard, whether that is us or the staff who are the subject of it.
“It needs to be said and ultimately when people do speak up is when a change happens.
“Hopefully the governing bodies and Leagues and us players are closer [in terms of their views]. I feel that there is starting to be a little bit of cohesion.
“It is just disappointing. You have kids watching it on TV and then you have your kids being brought up around it. It needs to stop.”