Chris Smalling admits the “easy decision” for him over the summer would have been to stay at Manchester United, but he is determined to make the most of a loan spell at Roma.
One of the longest-serving players at Old Trafford decided that the time was right to take on a new challenge during the last transfer window.
With United having invested a record-breaking £80 million ($100m) in Harry Maguire and competition for places already fierce, Smalling found himself at an important career crossroads.
He concedes that he could have remained in England and pushed for regular outings across multiple competitions with the Red Devils.
The ambitious 29-year-old is, however, eager to take as much as possible from his playing days and jumped at the chance to head for Italy on a season-long deal when the opportunity presented itself.
Smalling told The Telegraph: “The easy decision was to stay.
“I had spoken to the manager before Harry came and I knew I was behind him and Vic [Lindelof] but in previous seasons I had started behind [two first-choice centre-backs] and after four or five games I had worked myself into the team.
“I love a challenge and when a new centre-back comes in it makes you raise your game. You have to show more, you have to be more consistent.
“If I had stayed I would have taken on that challenge and I would have been very confident that I would have played the number of games that I was worthy of. Equally I have a challenge here at Roma.
“Going back [at the end of the season] I will have an added element that some of the centre-backs won’t have.”
Smalling added on his discussions with United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “He said I would get games.
“I am used to playing when I am fit. Although that might have been slightly different this season, I would have had the cup games and then in the league, depending on injuries.
“Would it have been the 40-50 games that I am used to if fit? It might have been the 20-30. Still a good number of games but I want to play.”
While looking to remain a regular at club level, the international door with England appears to have closed for Smalling, with Gareth Southgate having questioned his ability to fit into the Three Lions’ ball-playing system.
“I am disappointed,” said a man with 31 caps to his name.
“I was used to going to England. I was playing regularly for United up to when I left. The aspiration is always there. Ultimately it is down to the manager’s choice.
“What was said was maybe unfair at times and managers [who have picked me] at United are some of the world-class ones.
“Some of the things that maybe he [Southgate] mentioned… I feel even the managers who have been brought in at United have certain ways of playing and some of them are quite similar to Gareth.
“I guess football is a game of opinions. I am definitely not going to agree with him and he might not agree with some of the things that I would say back.
“Ultimately I would never close that door and hopefully work my way in at some point. It is looking slim under Gareth but never say never.”