Chris Smalling has revealed how Louis van Gaal helped turn him into England manager Roy Hodgson’s first-choice central defender for Euro 2016.
Van Gaal was sacked by Manchester United and replaced by Jose Mourinho after winning the FA Cup but failing to qualify for the Champions League.
The Dutchman was heavily criticised during his two-year Old Trafford reign.
But Smalling, 26, leapt to Van Gaal’s defence at England’s training base in Chantilly.
He said his erstwhile club manager’s desire for defensive organisation will help him when England’s Euro 2016 campaign opens against Russia in Marseille on Saturday.
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Smalling, whose England place is assured alongside either Gary Cahill or John Stones, said: “Louis is very tactically aware.
“Despite the ups and downs of the season, I think on the whole we as a team were very solid. We didn’t concede too many goals. That’s something he implemented.
“He really drilled us from the front to the back in terms of how we move, how we shift, and that’s helped me because that’s a large part of my game.”
Stopping Russia’s giant threat?
Russia’s main aerial threat will come from 6ft 5in striker Zenit St Petersburg striker Artem Dzyuba, who scored eight goals in qualifying.
Smalling said: “We have been watching videos. He is a big guy and it will be a physical battle. Picking up second balls is crucial and not letting him dictate and bring the ball down on his chest.
“Our central defenders will have to be very physical and aggressive against him. As defenders in the Premier League, we are used to big guys and those challenges and it’s something we enjoy as centre backs.”
England must cut out cheap fouls
Former top-flight referee David Elleray has addressed England’s squad about areas in which they may be punished in France, away from the more physical environment of the Premier League.
And Smalling is hoping to put the lessons into action and not fall foul of referees.
He said: “David came in and explained a lot of things that we may or not get away with in the Premier League compared to here now so we get some idea.
“I think in the Premier League you maybe do one or two fouls before a booking comes, whereas here they may clamp down sooner. It is tiny little things like that, not things that will distract away from how we normally play, and individually play.”
Smalling is aware that some of the wrestling in the box that is accepted in England may not be ignored in France.
“It is a very hard job for referees to gauge what goes on, defending and attacking, because so much does go on,” said Smalling.
“You do need to be careful, because you don’t want something like that to be a turning factor in the game.”
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