Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal claims it is inevitable that Chris Smalling will captain the first team in the future.
The former Fulham defender has been the Dutchman's first name on the team sheet this season and his performances have helped United to second in the standings ahead of this weekend's Manchester derby.
Despite being criticised for his inconsistency earlier in his Red Devils career, and personally by Van Gaal after his sending-off in last season's derby when the 64-year old labeled him as 'stupid', the England international has now established himself as one of the most consistent centre-backs in the league and tipped to lead his side.
"Wayne Rooney is the captain and so you don't have worry and then [vice-captain] Michael Carrick, but when they are gone then Chris Smalling can do that, so I push him also in that situation," Van Gaal told the club's official website.
The former Netherlands boss has praised his leadership qualities of being more vocal at the back which has improved the defensive consistency this season.
"He has done it by himself," Van Gaal said. "There is a lot of advice. It is about how we defend as a team. He is a part of that and I wanted him to speak.
"He also has the talent to speak. That makes him easy to coach. Because of that I made him a leader of the team.
"He has made steps and also in a tactical way. When you give instruction in terms of organisation you need someone to understand that.
"David De Gea has the best view and then the central defenders so I demand of my defenders that they speak."