Davide Santon instantly struck a chord with Newcastle’s intensely passionate supporters when he signed for a fee in the region of €6.5m from Inter in August 2011. “I have never seen a Mackem in Milan,” cheekily confessed the Italian full-back, upon signing a five-year deal, as he intimated that rivals Sunderland never qualify for European competitions.
It has taken the 21-year-old considerably more time to settle into life in Northern England, however, and while featuring predominantly in his first season, a move from Milan was never going to be easy. Despite making 27 appearances, he simply could not consistently live up to predecessor Jose Enrique. It was to be expected, but having already won two Serie A titles and a Champions League crown prior to arriving at St James Park, there was a considerable amount of expectation to live up to from the onset.
Inter Coach Jose Mourinho put faith in the Ravenna-born youngster in his first year in Italy and he went on to make 40 appearances for the club in all competitions. Originally a winger, he was converted to a defender in the Nerazzurri’s Primavera. An exciting turn of pace and invaluable versatility made him an asset to a squad plagued by injuries for substantial periods of time.
“I am very impressed, Santon is already an excellent footballer,” admitted Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 after he was marked out of Manchester United’s goalless stalemate by the defender on his European debut. That season he won his first domestic crown, and in the space of a year went on to conquer five separate trophies including an Italian treble, the FIFA Club World Cup and Super Cup.
Unfortunately when the Portuguese tactician moved on to Real Madrid after the momentous season, he rarely played with Rafael Benitez at the helm and was farmed out to lowly Cesena as part of a deal for fellow full-back Yuto Nagatomo in January 2011.
After only a handful of appearances in Emilia-Romagna he returned to the San Siro, now under the court of Gian Piero Gasperini. The Coach’s favored 3-5-2 formation allowed him to play as a wing back, which he did to great success in pre-season, but was sold that same summer to Newcastle.
A year on and Santon has progressed exponentially in England and has made himself a mainstay in Alan Pardew’s side. “He was a boy last year, but now he is starting to play like a man,” announced the 51-year-old boss. Having played the full 90 minutes in all but one of the club’s Premier League games this season, he has also become a fan favorite.
“His language skills have improved and he has a North-East girlfriend cooking him some nice pies, so he's a bit happier…” While Pardew has discovered the real secret to his success, there remains one sticking point with Santon. He has represented Italy since the age of 15, but has fallen off the radar of the Italian international setup over the last 12 months.
Cesare Prandelli glossed over him for recent World Cup 2014 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Malta for the senior side. New Under-21 boss Denis Mangia also left him out of European Championship qualifying matches with Lichtenstein and the Republic of Ireland, despite previously captaining that category for a prolonged period.
“A recall to the full squad seemed like a utopia a year ago, but now it is possible. I have just one thing to say to the Coach – please do not forget about me!” Santon’s plea may fall on deaf ears, but if his current form continues for any longer it simply cannot be ignored.