Chris Smalling has explained just how much he wanted to return to Roma in his first full interview since joining the club on a permanent basis.
Smalling was Roma’s best player last season while on loan from Manchester United, but it took right until the transfer deadline to sign him on a permanent basis this week.
Now, the English centre-back has landed back in the Italian capital – and media duties soon awaited him after receiving a triumphant reception from fans at Ciampino airport.
Speaking to Roma’s official website, Smalling has reiterated how eager he was to come back to the club on a permanent basis.
“It’s a massive, massive relief,” he began. “I think that everyone knew I wanted to come back and to finally get it done, albeit so close to the deadline, it’s just pure relief.
“Now I can enjoy being back and then get straight back to it with the team tomorrow.”
Fans were chanting Smalling’s name at the airport, as he received a hero’s welcome.
“Olé, olé olé olé, Smalling, Smalling!”— Giallorossi Yorkshire (@RomaYorkshire) October 6, 2020
What a reception as the defender lands in Rome! 💛❤️pic.twitter.com/wMcmUNWwSm
Even last season, the 30-year-old spoke about how much he felt the love from his new fans – but today’s experience hammered it home even more.
“It was truly, truly special,” he said. “I could feel tingles up my spine.
“To see such a big crowd as soon as I landed… honestly, I felt the love from the fans as soon as I first stepped on the pitch but it has just grown and grown [since] and it’s just such a special feeling.
“A few times I’ve seen players sign at various places and they might get a crowd, but to have it happen to myself is something I never thought would happen. To have that just makes me want to really give back as much as I can.”
Asked what makes him feel such an affinity to Roma, Smalling revealed how he became encapsulated by the passion surrounding the club as soon as he joined last year – something many fans will be able to relate to.
“Everyone here lives and breathes football,” he said. “It’s something that is spoken about non-stop.
“Obviously when I first arrived they were talking about the derby, and how we’ve got to win that, and then even from my first game I think that it’s just been a great feeling and something I’ve never wanted to leave.”Embed from Getty Images
Smalling has been stuck in limbo over the summer, training separately from the Manchester United squad while waiting for his return to Roma to finally go through.
But the Englishman has been keeping a keen eye on Roma’s progress while back in Manchester – revealing he has watched all the games on TV this season.
“I’ve had them all in the calendar, I’ve got the channel at home, so I’ve watched all the games,” he said. “And yes, obviously with speaking to people at the club as well, other players, over that time it’s great that I can now finally contribute and help the team where possible.”
Always a popular member of the squad last season, Smalling added that he had been keeping in touch with his teammates – who are just as happy he is back as everyone else.
“Yeah, they were over-the-moon to be honest,” he said. “I spoke to a lot of them, I even spoke to them over the summer, after the season, because I went on holiday to Sardinia so I saw quite a few of them there.
“We’ve been in touch, and a few [messages sent] waiting to see when it’s going to happen. I’ve been quite close with them; even though I’ve not physically been here, I’ve been able to talk to lots of the other players.”
Smalling also revealed he has been in contact with coach Paulo Fonseca – who had already admitted he was in regular conversation with the defender.Embed from Getty Images
Smalling proved to be the perfect fit for what Fonseca wanted at the back, and of his contact with the coach since the move became official, he added that they are both feeling a sense of relief.
“Obviously I’ve just arrived so I haven’t seen him [in person] just yet, but we’ve been speaking since it’s been done,” Smalling said.
“We’re both relieved and happy that we can work together again and really help Roma.”
While coaches tend to give new signings time to settle in, Smalling’s arrival coincides with the international break – meaning he should be fully up to speed by the time Roma’s next game comes around.
And the former Fulham man confirmed he will be raring to go against Benenvento later this month.
“Yeah, I think I will be more than ready,” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t training too much with the team there [in Manchester] but I’ve been physically fit. I’ve been doing double training sessions from the get-go and I feel physically very fit.
“I think this period actually gives me a good chance now to settle in again with the team and be firing again come next Sunday, ready for the manager.”
Smalling can now proudly call himself a permanent Roma player, and he is already dreaming big for what will happen during the next three years.
“I think one of my first goals was to be here long-term, and now it’s about getting a trophy,” he enthused. “I think that was something that was alluded to me when I first joined and I think now that is an aim that this club needs.
“Because I think even when I joined, this is obviously a massive club – but it has been without a trophy for a long time now.”
To conclude the interview, Smalling reiterated how much he wanted this move.
“I am so happy to be here,” he said. “I have been fighting hard to come back and finally we are reunited.
“I am ready to give my all, I can’t wait to get going again!”
Smalling has made 37 appearances and scored three goals for Roma so far.