It’s an armband that can weigh heavy at times, but it’s one that Chris Smalling can proudly say he has worn.
Thursday’s 3-0 Europa League win over Istanbul Basaksehir saw the English defender finish the game as Roma captain, after Edin Dzeko had been taken off.
At any club, wearing the captain’s armband is an honour, but at Roma, there’s a sense it means more. That armband is steeped in tradition, and has long been reserved for Roman heritage. Indeed, in the 21st Century, the permanent role has belonged to only Rome-born players – Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi.
Traditionally, when any of the above had been absent, it would be reserved for the next longest-serving player in the squad – one of the reasons Dzeko is instilled as vice-captain now. For Smalling to skip the queue so quickly is a sign of the impression he has made.
His leadership was never in doubt, having donned the armband with Manchester United on several occasions. But to come into a new environment and become part of the hierarchy at the speed he has done – with his knowledge of the Italian language not yet complete – is a commendable achievement.
In the three months of his loan from Man Utd so far, Smalling has established himself at the heart of the Roma backline. His statistics prove how good he has been, but the naked eye is enough to see his influence.
Chris Smalling’s game by numbers vs. Istanbul Basaksehir:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 28, 2019
100% aerial duels won
100% tackles won
89% pass accuracy
5 ball recoveries
0 fouls committed
0 goals conceded
Wore the armband well. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/sFbWyQwViu
Dominant in the air, strong in the tackle and a threat in both boxes, he is the first Englishman to ever score for the club, while Roma have kept the ball out of their own goal with much more success when he has been on the pitch.
Now, he is one of the first names on the teamsheet, and it’s no wonder Roma are looking to make his signing permanent. Even though he just turned 30, Smalling looks like a player who isn’t going to get weaker any time soon.
It is believed that the feeling is mutual, and he too wants to stay. Being handed the honour of the captaincy, even for a small portion of a match, will only work as another factor in convincing him that Roma is his home now.