United claim Smalling deal but Wenger holds out hope

Fulham agree terms at Old Trafford with defender in Manchester for medical today

Manchester United yesterday claimed they had beaten Arsenal to the £8m signature of Chris Smalling, the Fulham defender who has enjoyed a meteoric rise from non-League football to the Premier League champions in the space of two years.

As revealed in The Independent yesterday, Sir Alex Ferguson has had a long-term interest in the player who has risen from Maidstone United in the Ryman Premier League where he played up until 18 months ago. United said the England Under-21 international will move to Old Trafford only at the end of the season.

Last night there were still some doubts over whether United, who announced the transfer on their official website, had actually completed the deal for Smalling. Although Fulham later said that they had agreed terms with United and that Smalling was due in Manchester this morning for a medical, it was not clear whether the 20-year-old was definitively set on a move to Old Trafford or Arsenal.

Arsène Wenger had intimated at lunchtime, before the announcements from United and Fulham, that he still believed Smalling, thought to be an Arsenal fan, had not yet made up his mind. Smalling played in Fulham 2-0 defeat to Tottenham last night. Wenger said: "It just looks like Manchester United offered more money. As long as the player has not signed anywhere it is not the end of it. Let's see what happens. We will not come out on what we are doing exactly but just because it has come out on television that doesn't mean it is true. So let's see. If we've any more to tell you we will let you know."

United were in a similar situation when they thought they had signed Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff City in June 2008, only for the midfielder to join Arsenal instead.

Even Fulham manager Roy Hodgson could not say categorically that Smalling was joining United, saying that "as far as he knew" the player would be going to United today for a medical. "You always have to be prepared that when you produce a young diamond one of the big clubs might take him," he said. "He [Smalling] has to take a lot of credit for improving his game."

Fulham decided to cash in on Smalling because he only had 18 months remaining on his existing contract and was not prepared to sign a new deal. United's eagerness to complete the deal casts doubt on the future of Nemanja Vidic who United are concerned may have had his head turned by Real Madrid's interest. Rio Ferdinand has suffered with injury problems this season, especially his back.

Smalling only made his first Premier League start against Chelsea at the end of last month and has played just nine games in all for Fulham. The only sadness for Maidstone is that they received just a nominal sum from Fulham with no sell-on clause two years ago because Smalling never signed a professional contract with the non-League club which he joined as a 16-year-old.

Maidstone would like to have signed him but that would have precluded Smalling from playing for the England schools (ESFA) under-18s team who called him up two years ago. It was playing for the ESFA under-18s that he first came to the attention of professional clubs with an outstanding performance against Australia at Shrewsbury Town.

Smalling, who attended Chatham Grammar school, played seven times for the ESFA that season culminating with a game against Scotland at Wembley in which he once again excelled. It was Middlesbrough who first approached Smalling and he met with Gareth Southgate before Fulham made their interest known. The Fulham manager Roy Hodgson briefly played for Maidstone in 1971 during his playing career in non-League football.

Although Fulham were not bound to pay any transfer fee to Maidstone when they signed him last season, they did pay a small amount known as a "training progression payment" in respect of the work that the Kent club had done to develop him, most notably under youth-team coach Peter Nott. Maidstone are currently trying to raise £750,000 to build their own stadium; they currently share Ashford Town's ground.

The Maidstone chairman, Paul Bowden-Brown, said yesterday that the club were delighted for Smalling but sad that they had not been able to earn anything out of his success. "He [Smalling] is a great guy but we couldn't get him to sign a professional contract because you can't stop a boy playing for England. So when Middlesbrough and then Fulham came in we couldn't do anything about it.

"I'm pleased for Chris but I'm just disappointed that as we try to build a new home, the big boys in football can take a player and we do not benefit. I am not blaming Fulham because they were fair but it is a shame for us."

Because of his schoolboy status and his commitments with the ESFA team and the Kent county side, Smalling only played 11 games for Maidstone's first team, scoring one goal.

The former Maidstone secretary, Darren Lovell, said that Smalling would not be the first player to start his career at Maidstone and go on to Manchester United; the 1968 European Cup winner David Sadler was an amateur at Maidstone before going to Old Trafford.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower