Left-back or right-back? Just where Davide Santon should play has been a common debate for Newcastle fans throughout the course of last season. The 21-year old from Portomaggiore has returned to Italy for the summer and has enjoyed his maiden season in the Premier League, as is evident from the recent interview he gave to the club’s official website. I was particularly intrigued by this part:
“I’ve played a lot of games since breaking into the side. At the start I didn’t, but that was a good period for me. The manager gave me a chance to study, to find out about the team and where I was.
“It got me used to a new club and a new country and even though no player likes being sat on the bench, I can see that it did me good.”
Great, humble words from Davide, who seems to have a genuine level-head on him. I find it easy to respect players who display a little bit of humility. It is remarkable given his great friendship with Mario Balotelli. These two players are on opposite ends of the spectrum personality-wise. Let’s hope the the beast that is Man City does not cast its eyes the way of our Italian starlet in the future.
Looking to next season, I am extremely excited to see Santon play with a full season and pre-season behind him. Personally, I believe he will be most effective where he currently is at left-back. He may be right-footed but modern wing-play requires more than simply running and whipping balls into the box. His ability to effortlessly cut inside of defenders and create shooting and creative opportunities outside of the box is a great asset. It’s why Ben Arfa has thrived on the right this season. Regardless of where he is most suited to play, I can’t recall an instance where he has looked uncomfortable on the left.
He also doesn’t seem to possess much of the rawness that other players his age exhibit from time to time, at least in his forward-play. He oozes confidence when on his attacking runs and I was delighted for him getting the assist for Papiss Cisse’s first goal at Stamford Bridge. Aside from Ben Arfa, I think he is the most forward-thinking player in the team. His direct-attacking instinct will be vital if Alan Pardew is to perservere (hopefully) with the 4-3-3 formation which has proved extremely effective. The loss of width in midfield needs to be compensated by full-backs who can attack equally as well as they can defend.
Which leads onto Santon’s weaknesses. There have of course been questions raised concerning his defensive awareness. His marauding runs have often left our defence exposed – suicidal given that Coloccini and Williamson are not graced with pace. If he is to become the complete modern-day full back, this has to be addressed. He certainly has the capability, famously exemplified by his nullifcation of Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League. Most importantly, though, Santon has age on his side and I’m confident that under the guidance of Alan Pardew, he will smooth out the rough edges and become a defender of similar ilk to Ashley Cole, minus the arrogance.
Much has been said of the comparisons to the legendary Paolo Maldini – rarely a Santon article is written without at least one mention of the name. Such is the status of Maldini that it easy to understand how early correlations might have affected an 18-year old and inevitably he lost a little form and confidence, culminating in being shipped out on loan by Inter to Cesena. Consequently, my elation at his signing was mildly tainted by the niggling worry that he didn’t have the right mentality to realise his huge potential. This worry was slightly exasperated during the 4 months after he signed, in which he barely played. However, the form he has shown since breaking into the team has proved he does indeed possess the confidence – maybe re-found under the guidance of Pardew, away from the pressure cooker of Milan – to develop into the player he was tipped to be. Newcastle United is the club in which he can truly flourish and, crucially, he is enjoying life in city:
“I hope I am going to stay here for a few years to come, and I hope next season is just as good for us as a team.
“I am really happy here in England and this is where I want to be.”
I hope so too Davide. HWTL!