The England centre-back has been among the most improved players under Louis van Gaal.
The rise and rise of Chris Smalling could lead to the United captaincy for the in-form defender.
Reds boss Van Gaal believes the 25-year-old is now skipper material at Old Trafford, and this after calling him "stupid" 12 months ago when he was sent off in November's Manchester derby at the Etihad.
Almost exactly a year ago Smalling was booked twice in seven minutes against City.
He was yellow carded for blocking a Joe Hart kick out from close range, before he then hacked down James Milner and faced the walk of shame after just 39 minutes.
It left United with a mountain to climb and they lost the local showdown 1-0 to the Bluenoses.
"The sending off isn't one of those things, as a player you have to control your aggression, the second yellow card was stupid and not very smart" blasted LVG.
But this term he has certainly smartened up his act and has been United's stand out defender and one of the most improved Reds.
But the Old Trafford boss won't take personal credit for the extraordinary transformation in the player signed by Sir Alex for £10m from Fulham in 2010, but says he's taken his suggestion to be more vocal on board.
"Every player makes the step by himself" explained the Dutchman.
"I put him in the situation and I help him in the situation and I advise and then my player can take it on board or he cannot, it is his responsibility" says LVG.
"He has done it by himself, there is a lot of advice, it is about how we defend as a team.
"He is part of that and I wanted him to speak, he also has the talent to do this.
"That makes him easy to coach so because of that I made him a leader of the team- he has made steps and also in a tactical way.
"When you give instructions in terms of organisation you need someone to understand that.
"He is a structured person and he has accepted it quicker.
"David de Gea has the best view of the pitch and then the central defenders so I demand of my defenders that they are vocal.
"I am very pleased with Smalling and he is showing good leadership as well."
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