CHRIS SMALLING has had quite the career trajectory.
The Manchester United defender, set to sign for Roma on a loan deal, began life at Maidstone Utd before he was plucked out of non-league football by Roy Hodgson at Fulham.
15 Chris Smalling is about to embark on an Italian journey with RomaCredit: EPA
15 Man Utd are allowing Smalling to join the Serie A giants on loanCredit: PA:Press Association
From there, the 6ft 4in centre half enjoyed a rapid rise in the game – moving to the Red Devils in 2010 for a fee believed to be around £12m.
After making his England debut in 2011 against Bulgaria in a 2012 Euro qualifier, he hit the big time and soon found himself in a celeb romance.
Smalling shacked up with Page 3 stunner Sam Cooke, and they married in 2017.
Now, he will be embarking on an Italian venture with his wife and their son Leo Asher.
HE WAS A SCHOLAR
After securing three B's in his A-Levels, Smalling was offered a place at universities in Loughborough and Leicester to study financial economics.
Momentarily, he wasn't sure if he should hedge his bets on being a footballer, especially after he was released by Millwall at the age of 15.
And it wasn't as if Smalling, then 18, was playing in the big-time. He was at Maidstone when, by chance, he was spotted by Fulham's director of football, Les Reed.
15 Smalling began life at non-league Maidstone UnitedCredit: Not known, clear with picture desk
15 Fulham plucked Smalling from non-league football after he snubbed university for a career in the gameCredit: PA:Press Association
But after impressing Roy Hodgson, Smalling took on the gamble of becoming a professional footballer – pushing his studies to one side.
Sure enough it paid off, because at the beginning of 2009 he made his Premier League debut for the Cottagers.
Once he became a regular at Craven Cottage, his form alerted the big clubs, including Arsenal and Man Utd.
With his hands tied because of financial restraints in North London, Arsene Wenger was left to watch as Premier League rivals United swooped for a deal reportedly worth £12m in 2010.
Within two years, Smalling had remarkably gone from non-league football to the biggest club in the world.
At Old Trafford, he's won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup, a UEFA Europa League and two Community Shields so far.
PAGE 3 WAG
15 Smalling began dating Page 3 stunner Sam Cooke in 2013Credit: Alison Webster – The Sun
15 Soon, Smalling and Cooke became one of the glamour couples of the Premier LeagueCredit: Instagram
15 Cooke and Smalling got engaged in 2016Credit: Instagram @samsmallinginsta
15 Smalling and Cooke married in a star-studded ceremony in Lake Como in ItalyCredit: Instagram @Smalling
15 Leo Asher Smalling was born earlier this yearCredit: [email protected]
Smalling met gorgeous Page 3 girl Sam Cooke in 2013, and they were soon lighting up the gossip pages pictured on holiday in Barbados.
Three years later the pair were engaged, and they enjoyed an epic wedding in 2017 attended by teammates including Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones and Sam Johnstone.
The nuptials took place in the idyllic setting of sun-soaked Lake Como in Italy, in what was a dream ceremony.
This year, the couple became proud parents of a baby boy called Leo Asher, after Sam revealed she went through a 39-hour labour.
Smalling celebrated the happy news on social media with a sweet post, revealing he felt "truly blessed" by their arrival.
MIKE, IS IT?
The name Chris shouldn't really cause too much of a confusion, even for a foreign manager.
But former United boss Louis Van Gaal seemed to have a bit of bother remembering it in press conferences, mistaking him for 'Mike'.
15 Louis Van Gaal often got Smalling's name confusedCredit: AFP
15 In press conferences, Van Gaal referred to Smalling as 'Mike'Credit: Getty Images – Getty
When Bastian spots "Mike" haha @BSchweinsteiger @ChrisSmalling pic.twitter.com/oXOJ7d7NpV
— Inactive – FT is cancerous. (@Mufc_inactive) November 5, 2015
The joke started when Van Gaal mistakenly referred to Smalling as 'Mike' during a pre-season press conference in July.
The Dutch tactician then repeated his mistake after a Champions League win over CSKA Moscow.
Amusingly, other players got in on the act – and even Bastian Schweinsteiger joked, "Look, it's Michael!" when he saw Smalling at a presser.
And it clearly rattled the defender.
“Even when we’re going to games and getting off the coach, it’s all ‘Mike, Mike, Mike’, and even though it can get annoying, it’s one of those which is just going to stick with me and I’ve got to roll with it,” Smalling told BT Sport.
“It's not Mike in the dressing room but I think every fan knows me as Mike now.”
Footballers today are very conscious of their diets.
And like Arsenal star Hector Belllerin, Smalling has gone vegan to help his performance, albeit with a gentle nudge from wife Sam.
15 Smalling was turned on to a vegan diet by wife SamCredit: Instagram @samsmallinginsta
15 Cooke often shares meals she cooks for SmallingCredit: [email protected]
His missus even passed on some of her vegan recipes to the Carrington catering team so her husband can eat his favourite dishes after training.
Earlier this year, Sam posted a pic of her and Smalling tucking into the veggie options at a Frankie & Benny's too.
"Like two naughty kids in @frankieandbennys," she captioned the post.
“We’d had a long day and no time to cook so couldn’t resist when we drove past the vegan options are immense!
“We recommend the chickenless nuggets and the viva la vegan burger which had me calling the waitress over to double check it was vegan! Really good, like a Big Mac but better.
“Just waiting on the chocolate lava cake and Oreo Sunday!”
Luckily for Smalling, pasta is 100 percent vegan, so he won't have any dietary problems in Italy.
15 Dog-lover Smalling should have no problem settling into Italian life with pasta being completely veganCredit: [email protected]
15 Cooke will no doubt find some more interesting vegan recipes on their Italian adventureCredit: [email protected]