It’s all change for Manchester United this summer as Jose Mourinho attempts to shake things up at Old Trafford in order to return the club to its former greatness. £157 million worth of talent has been brought in, and the Portuguese boss also seems willing to take ruthless measures in order to rid the squad of what he believes to be deadwood.
Mourinho’s treatment of Bastian Schweinsteiger has been at best disrespectful to a player that has been there and done it all at the top level, whilst there have also been rumours that the likes of Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, Marcos Rojo and Morgan Schneiderlin are set for the chop. It might be fair to say that the new United boss is not overly fond of the signings that his predecessor, Louis Van Gaal, made during his tenure with the club. The latest Van Gaal recruit to be linked with a transfer is Matteo Darmian, with Sky Sports reporting yesterday that both Napoli and Roma are interested in bringing the Italy international back to his homeland.
The right-back does not appear to feature in Mourinho’s plans, failing to earn a spot in the match-day squad for both the Community Shield win over Leicester City, and Saturday’s Premier League opener at Bournemouth. Antonio Valencia’s performance was one of many highlights as United romped to a 3-1 victory at Dean Court, and with the promising Timothy Fosu-Mensah expected to continue his involvement in the first-team picture this campaign, Darmian appears to have been ostracised by the new regime.
It all looked so different just a few months ago. After an impressive few seasons at Torino in Serie A, the 26-year-old joined the Red Devils last summer for an undisclosed fee, understood to be around £12.7 million. During his first few months at Old Trafford, Darmian looked to be an astute addition to United’s ranks, with pundits heralding him as one of the signings of the summer. In an age where full-backs are much more proficient at attacking than they are defending, he proved to be a rarity. Refreshingly, he held his position well and was tough in the tackle, whilst still possessing the ability to get forward and support attacks when required. To many, he appeared to have all the ingredients needed to establish himself as United’s long-term right-back.
The quality of being aware of your own limitations is an underrated one but is something that Darmian possesses in abundance. He is fully aware that the attacking side of his game requires work so instead ensures that his main focus is on doing his job defensively, providing a sound base for others to go forward and attack. Following the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba, United are not short of attacking talent, but it is defensively where they can let themselves down. Darmian’s versatility is one of his strengths in this respect; not only is he capable of playing at right-back, but he also filled in at left-back last season, and has even played in the centre of defence during his time in Italy.
Although his form dipped in the second half of the season, many at Old Trafford would be disappointed to see him go. It would be difficult to argue that Valencia does not deserve to be first choice at this moment in time, following an impressive pre-season, but for Mourinho to write off Darmian completely seems harsh.
Competition for places will be vital if United are to challenge for the title this season, so a tussle between Valencia and Darmian for the right-back position may well bring out the best in the pair. Whilst Fosu-Mensah is an exciting talent, those who have watched him regularly at youth level claim he is more comfortable playing in either central midfield or at the heart of the defence. To pigeonhole him at right-back would see some of his best qualities wasted, whereas Darmian is a top level international in that position.
Mourinho is traditionally seen as being one of the game’s more pragmatic managers and his usage of the defensively minded Branislav Ivanovic at right-back whilst in charge of Chelsea suggests he prefers his full-backs to be defensively sound. With this in mind, the fact that Valencia, and not Darmian, appears to have won his appreciation is surprising, however, it may well be that the physical element of Valencia’s game is more suited to the style that Mourinho wishes to implement.
Darmian’s only United goal so far was a powerful volley in a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace in April, but despite this, it was clear to see that he was bereft of confidence towards the end of the season. This was probably more down to management issues and the difficulties of adapting to life in a different country rather than a lack of ability. Mourinho’s appointment could have been exactly what he needed, however, as often seems to be the case with the former Real Madrid boss, he has made his mind up very quickly on a number of players. Whether he is proved right on this one remains to be seen.
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