Chris Smalling: Man Utd defender on Messi, losing his dad aged five & fan abuse

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling has won eight trophies in nine years at Manchester United, including two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling says there is no animosity between him and Barcelona's Lionel Messi following Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final.

Forward Messi was left with a bloodied nose after a robust Smalling challenge in the first half of United's 1-0 loss.

"We spoke afterwards. We had a brief chat and shook hands," Smalling, 29, told BBC Radio 5 Live's Football Daily podcast.

"He knew it was an accident."

Barca had already scored the only goal of the game at the time of the challenge, with Messi - generally quiet by his standards - crossing for Luis Suarez, whose header deflected in off United defender Luke Shaw.

The return leg is at the Nou Camp on Tuesday (20:00 BST kick-off).

Referring to his aerial challenge on Messi, Smalling added: "I didn't realise at the time that I'd actually caught him like that.

"Suarez [came up to me] after the game as well. We had a good tussle and he just shook my hands afterwards and said 'good luck'.

"It's nice when you can have that battle on the pitch and then there's respect after the game because, ultimately, you are just trying to do your best."

Spanish giants Barcelona are 11 points clear at the top of La Liga and United face a huge task at the Nou Camp, but Smalling is confident Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have the ability to produce a comeback.

"We know it can be done," said the England centre-back.

"If we can carry on from the second-half performance when we were really on the front foot, brought intensity to the game and caused them a few problems, that's what we need to go there and do.

"We knew that we couldn't go completely gung-ho in that second half because there is another leg.

"We've got to make sure we go there with no regrets and leave everything there to give ourselves the best possible chance."

In a wide-ranging interview with the Football Daily podcast, Smalling - a patron of education charity Football Beyond Borders, which supports disadvantaged young people in the UK - also discussed the impact of losing his father at the age of five, growing up with little money and abuse from fans.

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Messi knew it was an accident - Smalling

'I take fan abuse home with me'

Smalling is a big admirer of Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who has spoken out about racist abuse directed at players on the pitch.

England international Sterling, 24, recently said players should not leave the pitch if they are targeted from the stands because "if you walk off they win".

Smalling said: "I agree with Raheem because it shows them up if you stay and you are strong. Ultimately, if you have a good performance and win the game, you are standing up for yourself.

"But I think the authorities need to do a lot more. Something needs to change otherwise we, as players, have to take it into our own hands.

"It's very few people who are ruining it for the whole crowd. That's why you think of walking off, but ultimately it's that very few who are disrupting the whole environment."

On dealing with abuse from opposing fans, Smalling added: "Sometimes you just take it home with you.

"It's not a nice feeling when you've had that. You can't really release it because you know you are in the public eye and it's not really the right way to go about things."

Chris Smalling challenges Luis Suarez during Manchester United's Champions League game with Barcelona
Smalling challenges Luis Suarez during Manchester United's Champions League game with Barcelona

'I look at a picture of my dad before every game'

Smalling was just five years old when his father, Lloyd, died leaving his mother, Theresa, to bring up two sons on her own.

"I was born in London but, after my dad passed away, we moved to Kent for a fresh start," said Smalling.

Money was tight and, as a teenager, he missed training because he could not afford the bus fare.

Speaking about his father, Smalling said: "I don't have too many memories of him that I can vividly remember but I have a few pictures up at home.

"It inspires me to make him proud.

"I have a collage of pictures of my dad holding my brother and me.

"I look at that before every game just to remind me about having no fear or regrets and to go out and enjoy the moment, because I know how precious life is.

"My mum tried her best. Now I try to make her life as enjoyable as I can because she has done so much for my brother and me."

'My head was fried when I met Fergie'

Smalling played at non-league Maidstone United before signing for Fulham, then managed by Roy Hodgson, as a teenager.

After just two Premier League starts, he signed for Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in 2010 for a reported £7m.

"We were playing Blackburn away and I was getting off the team coach when Roy said that they had accepted a bid from United," said Smalling. "He said: 'Sir Alex is coming to the hotel in 45 minutes.'

"It was so surreal. My head was fried and I wanted to tell the people close to me, like my mum and my brother.

"I rang my mum straight away. I was trying to get my words out and in the back of my head I was like: 'He's going to be here in 29 minutes.'

"I was trying to get the chair where he was going to sit positioned in the hotel room because it was by the television. I heard the knock on the door and thought: 'It's showtime.'

"I can't remember his first words because it was all such a blur. We were there for a good hour or 90 minutes.

"He's a genius at dealing with people. He made me feel so comfortable. He'd done a lot of his own research. It wasn't just about seeing a few good performances on the pitch.

"It was more a case of him knowing you as a person - more about my personal life than what's my best position.

"Soon after, I went up to Manchester and met a lot of the team. I had a picture with Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex which I have on the wall at home.

"It was a crazy moment. It was pure joy."

Smalling has made 318 appearances, scoring 18 times, for Manchester United since signing from Fulham in 2010
Smalling had made only two Premier League starts for Fulham when Manchester United signed him in 2010

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