What if I tell you, the last and only Manchester United player who came from Torino was a certain Ballon d’Or and a Champions League winner with Manchester United. A player embedded in United folklore- Dennis Law. The latest defensive signing by the Red Devils is a rather under-hyped, Matteo Darmian. The pedigree which Darmian follows is quite impressive. A youth product of an academy that has produced the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, Matteo Darmian has been a very fast learner. Being a part of the legendary 2007 AC Milan side, he learnt and looked up to the best in the profession, whatever maybe his position. This meant that he has the best knowledge of football in whichever position he plays. As a full-back he learnt from Paolo Maldini. Before that, he played as a central midfielder and idolized Clarence Seedorf. He was then made to play in the central defense and started following Alessandro Nesta. The versatility he inherited from this learning experience was a key factor in impressing and convincing Louis van Gaal to pay 12m British Pounds for the Torino man.
According to Darmian, the learning process leading up to his amazing versatility at the back started long before he made the cut to the first team. “In the first years I spent in Milan’s academy, I was the smallest, the scrawniest, the least strong, and yet every summer a letter came through the post asking me to come back.” Darmian had his coaches intrigued. They tried him out in several positions, imbuing a versatility that he retains and will be much to the liking of Louis van Gaal.
Breaking into that AC Milan team of 2007 is no small deal and when the young defender did that, he was overwhelmed. Sharing the dressing room with his childhood idols was a dream come true for the young Darmian. For a 17 year old to share the dressing room with such legends as Maldini, Seedorf, Nesta and others is a great experience and wonderful phase to learn.
“To say I tried to steal something from them would be pretentious. Let’s just say Clarence taught me what it means to have personality, (Ales)sandro elegance and Paolo how to be professional.”
However, getting a starting place in a team of Maldini, Nesta, Bonera or Gattuso is almost impossible for this youngster. As hyped as he was at the time, Darmian would only make four appearances for Milan.
“Matteo needed to bulk up and go get some experience elsewhere,” Maldini explained last summer. “Those were different times. It wasn’t easy to find a place in Milan’s starting XI.” Not with that competition.
Loaned to Padova where he broke his scaphoid (a bone in the wrist) and was then sold to Palermo, it wasn’t until Giampiero Ventura signed Darmian for Torino — then down in the second division — that he got the regular game-time he needed to develop. Ventura found in Matteo a player whom he can trust and rely upon. A perfect professional person. “Matteo never misses a training session,” he said earlier this year, “let alone a game.” The teachings of Maldini were beginning to reap benefits.
Along with the coach, Darmian helped Torino return to Serie A and then played an important role in keeping them up. He helped the team reach into proper Europe for the first time in 20 years and then helped them win at San Mames. It was a first win for any Italian team. His most impressive club performance, however, came against in the memorable win over Juventus in the Derby della Mole. Torino beat Juventus for the first time since 1995 with Darmian scoring one and assisting one goal.
His performances, internationally, were terrific as well. Leighton Baines and Raheem Sterling might still be having nightmares of him. Darmian along with Candreva, pulled England’s left hand side to shreds during their group stage match against the Three Lions.His combination play with Candreva even drew comparisons with Claudio Gentile and Bruno Conti in 1982 and Gianluca Zambrotta and Mauro Camoranesi in 2006. Understandably after Euro 2012, all the focus had been on Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli and, on the night, they didn’t disappoint. Darmian was impressive, however. But his performance and the rise that followed were a genuine surprise. He garnered great curiosity as the guy who caused great problems to the England’s left hand side.
Darmian’s game-play is something Louis van Gaal and Manchester United will relish. He has an amazing first touch. Gone are the days of Antonio Valencia knocking the ball miles ahead of him – this guy knows how to control a ball. He is defensively very sound and makes great tackles unlike Rafael’s poor defensive game. Not only he makes decisive and penetrative attacking runs, but also tracks back and performs his defensive duties as well. He is rapid as well and can be a part of the old school United counter attacking game-play. Add to these a lethal finish and Matteo Darmian can become the apt successor to that right-back position, left vacant since the retirement of Gary Neville. Less injury prone and absolutely no defensive errors are additional positive attributes in him which can propel the guy from Italy as the solution to Manchester United’s defensive problems.
The biggest factor has been his incredible consistency no matter where he has been deployed. Averaging 2.6 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game the previous season, Darmian has proven adept at halting opposition attacks and is always diligent in his defensive duties before venturing forwards. When his side is in possession, the 25-year-old is comfortable either running at his man with the ball or making an intelligent pass to a better-placed team-mate. He has improved in front of goal where, having netted just twice in his entire career before, 2014/15 has seen him score four times, with two coming in his first European campaign. Despite being just under 6ft tall, Darmian is also very good in the air, and has won 55% of the duels he has contested.
The guy’s versatility at the back will also come in handy, given that last season Manchester United suffered from a mind boggling 68 injuries. Now, a player’s adaptability can often be a double-edged sword. It’s true that they get to play week-in week-out, but not always in their preferred position, and that can sometimes lead to disgruntlement. Not with Darmian. With him, side comes before self. He’s an altruist, comfortable in his own skin and with who he is. Something, the manager likes in a player. Ask Victor Valdes for that matter.
The question now is will he push Branislav Ivanovic and Pablo Zabaleta on a run for their money in the Premier League? Given that, he won the Italian player of the year award, beating Andrea Pirlo and Manchester United’s last signing from Torino going on to become a club legend- signs and omens look positive for Louis van Gaal, Matteo Darmian, and Manchester United.