Chris Smalling: Manchester United Flop Louis Van Gaal Made My England Career

Chris Smalling
England defender Chris Smalling in Chantilly, France, June 8. Smalling said former Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal helped him grow into an international quality player. Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty

You won't hear many words about Louis Van Gaal out of Old Trafford these days, still fewer of those in support of the departed Dutchman.

Van Gaal's reign has been consigned to the dustbin of bad memories, two unhappy seasons forgotten as soon as Jose Mourinho waltzed into the Carrington training complex, that half-smirk on his face that he might have a shot at trademarking.

At least somebody is standing up for Van Gaal. Chris Smalling, one of the very few to come out of those two years in credit, says he owes his England career to the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.

"Louis is very tactically aware," Smalling said. "He really drilled us from the front to the back in terms of how we move, how we shift, and that's helped me."

One of Mourinho's first significant acts as United manager has been to invest in an expensive new defender, with Eric Bailly joining from Villarreal for £30 million ($43.4 million).

That could put Smalling, 26, on his toes.

But he did indeed make significant progress under Van Gaal, whose emphasis on structural solidity and defense came at the expense of some of United's attacking talents.

Perhaps voicing appreciation for the deposed King is not so wise in these, the days of the new republic of Manchester. Still, it is heartening, occasionally, to hear a faint voice suggesting that Van Gaal might not have been all bad.