What will Matteo Darmian bring to Manchester United?
The majority of Manchester United fans have reacted in two ways to the signing of Matteo Darmian. Many are just happily admitting never having watched the Italian so are unaware of how good a signing he really is, whilst the others, perhaps after watching him only a few times, blindly claim he’s world class without knowing much about him. The reality is, his exploits in Serie A and for Italy have shown him to be one of the most exciting and complete full-backs in world football and many Italian pundits would support that evaluation.
The 25 year-old full-back has been scouted by Napoli, Roma, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United in the last 18 months with most of them chasing his signature, just epitomising that elite clubs believe he has the ability to take a step up and play at the very highest level – a real testament of his talent.
What makes Matteo Darmian such a highly-rated player?
Darmian has developed a reputation in Italy for marauding up and down the flanks due to his phenomenal pace and agility despite being almost 6ft tall. In the modern era of football, full-backs are expected to be equally adept at attacking duties as they are of their defensive ones; Darmian embodies that perfect balance between the two. Last season Darmian scored 4 goals and provided 4 assists in all competitions, far superior to Antonio Valencia’s tally of 2 assists whilst even bettering supposed targets Nathaniel Clyne’s 2 goals and Seamus Coleman’s 2 assists. The Italian youngster has proven to be pivotal for the attacking output of the Torino side, in the attacking third, he made more key passes than Clyne, Coleman, Valencia and Alves last season and created a goal-scoring chance every 65 minutes last season bettered only by arguably the best attacking full-back in the world Dani Alves (62 minutes per chance). Stylistically likened to AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini because of the combination of his surging runs forward, positional awareness and pinpoint crossing ability with both feet; Matteo Darmian has the potential be a great attacking asset for Manchester United.
For a relatively young player, he has been deployed in many positions for both club and country, as he has the footballing maturity which surpasses his years and the pace and ball-playing ability to be effective in more than one position. Unlike the frustratingly one-footed Antonio Valencia, Darmian is capable of passing and crossing with his left and right foot, which has meant that he has played both as a left-back and as a right-back for Torino in a back 4. Even when the formation changes, he is incredibly versatile and easily adaptable to the requirements of different positions as he has been very effective as a wing-back in a midfield of 4 or 5 men and even as a centre-back in a back 3. We all know Van Gaal craves ‘multi-functional’ players in his squad and given Manchester United’s dire injury record, Matteo Darmian to Manchester United may be a match made in heaven.
Sometimes with full-backs with such attacking excellence, they can often neglect their defensive duties and bomb forward without any positional awareness. Darmian’s defensive capabilities make him a sizeable upgrade to Antonio Valencia, who last season showed his uncomfortableness as a winger in an unnatural position, lacking the composure and assuredness of a natural defender. Darmian is not a robust or an aggressive tackler by any stretch but his reading of the game has made him one of the most composed defenders in Italy. Aged 22 in the 2012/13 season, he averaged more tackles per game than anyone in the Top 5 leagues in Europe which shows that even though he isn’t the most physically imposing player, he is more than capable of fulfilling his defensive duties. Although he enjoys his attacking bursts, his speed and positional awareness makes him adept at tracking back and preventing opposition counter-attacks; he has the balance Van Gaal loves his full-backs to have. Last season, he made the 3rd highest amount of tackles in Serie A and he won an impressive 57% of aerial duels, better than any of the aforementioned right-backs, this aerial dominance will be a welcome addition to United considering the lack of an aerial ability and presence were flaws pointed out by Louis Van Gaal himself. In terms of individual duels which include tackles, take ons, aerial duels and tackling success, his 51% success rate was higher than Clyne, Valencia and Alves. He really is a well-rounded defender with a great engine capable of juggling his defensive and attacking responsibilities to perfection.
His calm, composed style has earned him many plaudits from avid watchers of Serie A and Italy. In fact, his confident, stylish performances in the 2014/15 season earned him a place in the 2014/15 Serie A Team of the Year. Even for his country his exploits were whole-heartedly appreciated as Darmian won the ‘Il Pallone Azzurro’ – The Italian National team Player of the Year award because he was the stand out performer in a mediocre Italian showing at the World Cup in 2014 in which he made his competitive debut.
Manchester United fans were perhaps confused to see Liverpool given a clear run to buy Nathaniel Clyne earlier this summer with United not submitting any official bids. Even now there are some with very little knowledge of Matteo Darmian’s ability that claim Seamus Coleman may have been the better option. Nevertheless, those who have watched Darmian on a consistent basis would know that Matteo Darmian is perhaps already a step above the aforementioned duo, the best full-back in Serie A; he is incredibly great value for money at the price of £12-14m (€20m). Fans were unaware of how good Ander Herrera was at the start of last season, but by the end of it, almost unanimously he was dubbed Manchester United’s signing of the season, Darmian has the talent to surprise the fans again. Given his supreme talent and his potential to improve even further, Manchester United may well have filled their right-back position for the foreseeable future.
By Hesham Bilal-Hafiz (@hesham786)