Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has named ex-Chelsea star Didier Drogba as the toughest opponent he has had to face in his career so far.
The Ivorian powerhouse was arguably the most feared striker in the Premier League when Smalling was trying to establish himself at Old Trafford after making the move from Fulham in 2010.
Having played non-league football for Maidstone United only a couple of years earlier, it was going head to head with players like Drogba that gave Smalling the confidence and belief that he could make it at the highest level after this monumental rise from obscurity.
“It was quite early in my career that he was in his prime,” the 27-year-old explained in an official Premier League video published on social media this week.
“He was difficult because I think he is someone who ticks every box. He strong, he was quick at the time, and you knew he only needed one chance [to score].
“I think he was the biggest threat that I’ve faced, especially early in my career, it was even more tough. It was great to test myself against him. I really enjoyed it and it gave that feeling that I belong at this sort of level.”
Having been United’s best defender and among the top centre-backs in the Premier League in 2015/16, Smalling has returned to the line-up in recent weeks after patchy form during manager Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge.
He captained the team against Swansea in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night and could well start against Tottenham on Saturday if Eric Bailly fails to overcome a minor injury.