Jose Mourinho explains how he overcame concerns over Chris Smalling's feet at Roma

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Jose Mourinho has explained how Chris Smalling has gone from an area of weakness at Manchester United, to a pillar of strength for his Roma side.

The Special One is coming to the end of a typically tumultuous first season in charge of the Italians, a campaign which has been punctuated by post-match rants at referees, disillusioned players and as so often in his illustrious career – the chance of a trophy.

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The Giallorossi are one game away from their first European triumph since 1961, when they face Feyenoord in the inaugural Europa Conference League final. Domestically, Roma are in a battle for a top-five finish and Smalling has played a key role in all of their successes.

Smalling moved to the Eternal City in October 2020 in a bid to repair a reputation which had been damaged during his final years at Old Trafford. For all of his perceived flaws, the former England international was a regular in title-winning United sides and was also part of the last Red Devils team to lift a trophy in 2017.

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Mourinho was his manager on that occasion as well, as United overcame a highly fancied Ajax team to lift the Europa League. But in his analysis of the victory, Mourinho rather bizarrely suggested that United had to play their way around concerns he had over Smalling’s feet.

“What matters is that my players understand we cannot have doubts there – defensive creativity only in emergency situations,” Mourinho said at the time. “We prepare a game better when we’re aware of our own weaknesses. I told my players that, for me, beautiful is not giving our opponents what they want.

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Jose mourinho explains how he overcame concerns over chris smalling's feet at roma

Jose Mourinho once joked Chris Smalling's feet meant Man Utd couldn't play out from the back

“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.”

However, now enjoying some of the best football of his career, Mourinho is delighted to have the fan-favourite in his team, whose performances have earned him a nickname of the highest prestige in Italian football.

“The situation with Chris is about finding a balance on his body that allows him to be playing regularly because after that his experience, his qualities are there, he is a fantastic player,” he told Sky Sports. “In this moment he is recognised here in Italy even in a funny way: 'Smalldini' which is [a mix] of Smalling and Maldini. He is doing amazing for us.”

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Jose mourinho explains how he overcame concerns over chris smalling's feet at roma

Chris Smalling has been a regular for Roma during Mourinho's first season ( Image: REUTERS)

The charismatic Portuguese head coach is still the final United manager to win any silverware at Old Trafford, with Erik ten Hag tasked with ending the longest trophy drought in more than a generation. But despite the sour end to his time at the club, which saw a divided dressing room effectively down tools, he hopes they can turn it around.

“We won together three titles at Man United, unfortunately, the last three titles of Man United and I said unfortunately because yes I like the club very, very much and I wish the club the best,” he added. “But we won three titles together so everything went well. In the second season we worked together, it was a little bit different.”

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