Soccer

Solskjaer speaks out on Chris Smalling return and reveals talks with defender

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he’s been in contact with Chris Smalling throughout his loan spell at Roma and has left the door open for the defender to return and fight for a place at Manchester United.

Harry Maguire’s world-record £80million arrival at Old Trafford last summer saw Smalling complete a temporary switch to Roma and the 30-year-old surpassed expectations across an impressive stay at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Serie A giants have been keen to make Smalling’s move permanent ahead of the 2020/21 campaign but United’s hefty £25million asking price is preventing a deal from getting off the ground.

Asked about the centre-back’s future at his press conference on Tuesday, United head coach replied: ‘I think Chris has shown over his career at Man United how valuable he is for Man United.

‘And this season was about him being a regular, going to Roma, showing and proving how good a centre-back he is.

‘I wanted to give Harry, Vic [Victor Lindelof] and maybe Axel [Tuanzebe] a chance and so we found out that was the best for him to go to Roma, play for a year.

‘Now he’s coming back and Chris has shown this season that he’ll be valuable.

‘I’ve been speaking to Chris throughout and I’ve been delighted with his season.’

Smalling’s potential departure could be blocked if the Red Devils fail to bring in defensive cover this summer.

Widespread reports suggest Solskjaer wants to sign a centre-back with pace to make up for Maguire’s lack of mobility – but the Norwegian insists he’s ‘not concerned’ about his current options.

Asked if United will strengthen at the back, he responded: ‘We are always looking to improve the team and the squad. I think we’ve been very, very solid at the back.

‘I think sometimes we might be exposed in behind when we’re pressing as high as we’ve done.

‘We’ve decided to be a high-pressing team when we can, and if you don’t take risks you won’t improve.

‘Yeah, once in a while [teams] have found space in behind us. But I’ve not been concerned about it, no.’

In a social media message on Tuesday morning, Smalling said that he was devastated not to be able to complete Roma’s Europa League campaign.

‘I’m gutted that I can’t finish what we started this season,’ the England international said.

‘To experience the love shown to me in such a short time was extra special and it will not be forgotten.

‘I want to thank and wish all the players and staff the best of luck against Sevilla. DAJE ROMA!’

Roma have been eyeing a move for free agent Jan Vertonghen in the event that they fail to reach a permanent agreement for Smalling.

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