Chris Smalling dismisses Jose Mourinho jibes over pain threshold

Chris Smalling of AS Roma gestures during the Serie A match between US Sassuolo and AS Roma at Mapei Stadium - Citta' del Tricolore on February 13, 2022 in Reggio nell'Emilia, Italy

Chris Smalling has dismissed Jose Mourinho’s claims he “isn’t capable of playing through pain” as the former Manchester United centre-half launched a staunch defence of his commitment to Roma in the face of wild allegations around his long injury battle.

Smalling, who joined Roma from United in a projected £18 million deal in 2019, has been sidelined for the past four-and-a-half months with a persistent knee problem.

Mourinho - who was sacked as Roma manager on Tuesday - criticised Smalling in late November by questioning the defender’s pain threshold in remarks that echoed similar complaints the Portuguese made about the player while in charge at Old Trafford.

Smalling has since had to contend with a string of reports in Italy suggesting he has gone against Roma’s medical recommendations, refused surgery and painkillers and even asked to leave the club.

Now Smalling has moved to set the record straight in an Instagram post as the 34-year-old former England defender edges nearer to a return.

Mourinho had claimed Smalling “isn’t capable of playing through pain” and “holds something back”, that there are people “who aren’t high-performance athletes who have a greater pain threshold” and added “maybe I can sleep fine with toothache, maybe you struggle”.

Manager Jose Mourinho Leaves AS Roma
Mourinho was sacked by Roma earlier this week after a poor run of results - Getty Images/Simone Arveda

But Smalling insisted he had always put the needs of team-mates ahead of his own and refuted reports he had asked to leave Roma.

“Let me start by clarifying that I have never asked to, nor even contemplated, leaving this great club,” he said.

“No footballer wants to spend their days in a treatment room, and this period of time away from my team-mates has challenged me, with setback after setback.

“I have, and will always, put the needs of my team-mates first, but the absolute priority for the medical team is to guarantee that I can play a significant role in the latter part of the season and for seasons to come.”

A key figure for Roma in recent seasons, Smalling’s absence has been one factor behind the club’s struggles this term that have seen them slip to ninth in Serie A and ultimately cost Mourinho his job.

Smalling has a small tear in a patella tendon that has caused repeat inflammation. Roma have been trying to manage the problem through the use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and painkillers, with specialists recommending against surgery, according to the player.

“Guided only by specialists, I have been open to all solutions, short and long, and any insinuation that I have dictated a treatment plan are false,” Smalling said.

“With surgery not an option proposed by any specialist I have engaged with, I have to trust the expertise that guides my recovery plan which, contrary to popular belief, does include painkillers. A lot of them, in fact.”

Smalling is no stranger to being criticised by Mourinho for allegedly being unwilling to go through the pain barrier for his team.

Chris Smalling of AS Roma celebrates winning the UEFA Europa Conference League during the UEFA Conference League final match between AS Roma and Feyenoord at Arena Kombetare on May 25, 2022 in Tirana, Albania
Smalling has been a vital cog for Roma in recent seasons - Getty Images/Justin Setterfield

In November 2016, Mourinho, then the United manager, said after a win against Swansea City that Smalling “doesn’t feel that he can play 100 per cent without pain”, only for it later to emerge that the defender had broken a toe in a prior game against Fenerbahce.

Smalling had also taken a couple of pain-killing injections in order to play against Chelsea three days after the Fenerbahce match in which he had broken a toe in two places.

The following April, Mourinho claimed Smalling - and fellow defender Phil Jones - were too “cautious” in their approach to declaring themselves fit for games and needed to be “brave”.

It is thought Smalling - who last played on Sept 1 last year - hopes to return to training with Roma in the next two to three weeks. Daniele De Rossi, Mourinho’s replacement as manager, is thought to be abreast of Smalling’s situation.

Smalling said the past few months “have proved some of the most frustrating of my career” but insisted the injury was out of his control and maintained that his “commitment and loyalty to the club has never wavered” since signing.

“The absolute priority is guaranteeing I can play for AS Roma at the highest level for years to come,” he told Roma fans. “Your patience and loyalty as I work on getting back to my best is greatly appreciated.”

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