It is fair to say that Matteo Darmian’s start to life at Manchester United has not gone as well as the former Torino defender might have hoped. Injuries have disrupted the wing-back’s debut season in England, whilst uncertainty surrounding manager Louis Van Gaal and more disappointment on the pitch at Old Trafford have made it something of a season to forget.
But none of this affects the fact that Darmian is by far Italy’s best option on the right side of defence. Whilst his injuries have been unfortunate as he has sought to establish himself in the United first-team, a broken rib and a dislocated shoulder are not the kind of muscular concerns that could continue to plague the defender in a tournament. He also has the advantage of having played less football and so will enter the tournament fresher than many of his rivals, without being completely lacking in match practice and fitness.
Antonio Conte has voiced his appreciation for players who can feature in numerous positions, and Darmian is comfortable when switched to the left if needed. He can also play as a conventional right-back in a back four, should Conte decide to change formations during the tournament.
That said, Darmian’s untouchability in the Azzurri squad is based on his qualities when playing as a right wing-back. This is a key position in Conte’s traditional 3-5-2 formation, with both wing-backs expected to fulfil roles in defence and attack.
Whilst most full-backs are keen to attack in modern football, many of them seem less assured with their defensive responsibilities. Not so Darmian, a dynamic presence on the flank who is equally comfortable with both aspects of the game. At Torino last season, he won more tackles-per-game than any of his team-mates, and also created the most goal-scoring opportunities.
Darmian went into the 2014 World Cup largely unknown outside of Italy, but his impressive performances in Brazil meant he was one of the few Italian players to emerge from the tournament with credit. He has now played over 20 times internationally, including in all 10 qualifying fixtures for Euro 2016.
In qualifying he demonstrated his versatility, playing as part of a back three, on both the right and left of a four-man defence, and at both right and left wing-back. He is a mainstay in Conte’s team, no matter what formation.
On and off the field, Darmian is not a flash person. He is professional, a steady presence, not someone who likes to draw attention to himself. This should not count against him. Whilst Emanuele Giaccherini has improved since returning to Italy, and Alessandro Florenzi’s versatility endears him to Conte, Matteo Darmian should not just be on the plane to France, but in the Italy team.
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