Louis van Gaal, who labelled Chris Smalling “stupid” last season, says the centre-back is destined to become Manchester United captain.
Smalling will be one of the first names on Van Gaal’s teamsheet when United host City at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Van Gaal branded Smalling “stupid” for his performance in the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.
The England international was booked on the half-hour for trying to stop Joe Hart kicking from his hands, and eight minutes later he was dismissed for a late and needless foul on James Milner.
Smalling put the episode behind him and went on to establish himself as a first-team regular under Van Gaal, who handed the player a new four-year contract in April.
The United manager has been so impressed by the 25-year-old that he has tipped him to take the captain’s armband once Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick retire.
“Wayne Rooney is the captain and so you don’t have worry and then (vice-captain) Michael Carrick, but when they are gone then Chris Smalling can do that, so I push him also in that situation,” Van Gaal said.
The former Fulham centre-back played a key part in United’s victories over City, Liverpool and Tottenham in the spring, which all but secured Champions League qualification.
And he has started this season in the same form. Almost a quarter of the way into the season, he is the only player to have started every match under Van Gaal.
The Dutchman feels Smalling has become more vocal and that has been crucial to his development.
“He has done it by himself,” Van Gaal added.
“There is a lot of advice. It is about how we defend as a team. He is a part of that and I wanted him to speak.
“He also has the talent to speak. That makes him easy to coach. “Because of that I made him a leader of the team.
“He has made steps and also in a tactical way. When you give instruction in terms of organisation you need someone to understand that.
“David de Gea has the best view and then the central defenders so I demand of my defenders that they speak.”