Words from Tom Rowland.
In recent times the role of the wing back in present day football has become one of the most challenging positions to master. There is the need for tactical awareness and quick, sensible thinking to be in the correct position. Physically, the wing back needs to have great stamina, being able to attack as well as defend in a blink of an eye when play transitions from one side to another.
Not an easy task, shown by the few elite wing backs currently at the top of the game. Last season though, a Torino player was producing the goods week in, week out, after shooting to mainstream viewership during the World Cup in Brazil. He is on course to become one of those few elite wing backs.
Matteo Darmian received his first Italian cap just two weeks before the World Cup. Impressing then coach Cesare Prandelli, he starred against England in their 2-1 opening match victory. Despite an overall disappointing competition for the Azzurri, Darmian had proven he was able to compete at the top level.
He had already proven himself in Serie A, even if there wasn’t much fanfare about him or interest from larger clubs on the peninsula. Darmian had played regularly for Torino over the previous four seasons, initially on loan in Serie B, and then establishing himself as a key component in Torino’s recent rise and performances after they secured him permanently. The Granata have gone on to cement their Serie A status, under the guidance of Giampiero Ventura, and after some disappointing years returned to Europe for the first time in 20 years (not including their Intertoto Cup appearance in 2002).
Last season really drove home the fact that this was an efficient, reliable and tactically aware wing back. His positional play and reading of the game to take up the most suitable position or to go in for a tackle are rarely wrong while his decision making to attack or defend helps the balance and shape of the team, which is further aided by his versatility to play on either flank.
Often people judge wing backs on their quality to attack, rather than defend. While Darmian is certainly more defensive minded, his ability in the opposition half is not shabby. In fact last season he scored five goals for Torino. One of them was in the historic Europa League win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mamés where no Italian team had ever won before. Another was in April’s 2-1 victory over Juventus in the Derby della Mole, their first win against the Old Lady since 1995.
All of this sounds extremely positive and it would be easy to jump to possible issues such as age and experience. Yet for many new to Darmain, he is already 25 and entering into his peak years, mentally as well as physically. It’s somewhat of a surprise in the digital age that he has only really captured people’s imagination over the last 12 months or so. Initially he was in the Milan youth ranks, making his debut at 17. But after failing to break into the Milan first team during his three year stay he was loaned out to Padova and Palermo before Torino’s loan and full transfer.
Like so many youth players, especially in Italy, youngsters are rarely given a consistent, fair chance to prove their worth, often dropping down the levels to gain first team football. Ultimately, Darmian has proved this a worthwhile education as he now embarks on a challenge with Manchester United in the Premier League.
Louis van Gaal will hope Darmian solidifies his defence somewhat while also being tactically adept to the Dutchman’s tactical tweaks. United fans will hope to see Darmian continue to flourish into a complete, all-round wing back – with the possibility of finally finding their best right back since Gary Neville – as the Old Trafford club continue their transformation under Van Gaal and Ed Woodward.
In today’s transfer market, the fee of around £12.9 million looks a sensible investment, but patience to adapt to a new country and culture is always needed. All things considered though, this could turn out to be one of the best pieces of business this summer.
By Tom Rowland – @TWRowland