Since joining from Inter Milan for around £5.3 million in the summer of 2011, Davide Santon’s time at Newcastle has been mixed. In the 2011/12 season he looked dangerous going forward but often had no end product and was caught out of position. The 2012/13 season started much better for the Italian, he was arguably Newcastle’s best player and was rewarded with a call-up to the Italian national team in November. His form then faded away and he was often caught being lazy at getting back. On several occasions Santon has jogged or even walked back into position as the opponents raced away and scored. His laziness is not only not getting back it’s small things such as not following his man a few yards which can lead to goals. Santon had to be saved by Jonas Gutierrez a lot last season, the continued selection of Jonas was questioned by many Newcastle fans but he’s the most defence-minded left winger in the side, which compliments Santon, and Gutierrez saved Santon’s skin several times.
Towards the end of the season Santon looked less and less reliable defensively, he looked more error prone (the prime example of this was when he gifted Benfica a goal with a wayward pass in the Europa League). In an attacking sense Santon has become weaker too, opposing full-backs have found him out, often simply showing him down the touchline and allowing him to cross with his weaker left foot, rather than cut in and shoot or cross with his right. The full-back was still one of the best players in an out-of-form Newcaste side. On a popular Newcastle fans forum Santon was voted as their second bet player this season, after Fabricio Coloccini.
Santon is still young, only 22 years old, and so he can be developed. The Italian can be taught to be more cautious going forward and less lazy at getting back. Remember, Ashley Cole was heavily criticised for his often careless attacking from left-back, but he was nurtured and has been one of the best full-backs in the world for years. I’m not saying Santon will become a defender as good as Ashley Cole, but he can coached to play more like him.
A completely different example of what players like Santon can become is Gareth Bale. The Welshman went from being an attacking left back to the best left winger in England, the signs are that Santon might be the same type of player (although he’ll almost certainly never reach the level Bale is at).
Another way of deploying Santon is that Newcastle could play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Santon on the right or left of the three. If on the right side Santon would have more freedom to use his preferred foot, however, that would mean sacrificing Ben Arfa by playing him in the centre, and he’s more effective – and one of Newcastle’s main threats – on the right-hand side. It would be better, then, to have Santon on the left of the trio unless Ben Arfa’s not fit. This is all well and good in theory but will it work in practice? The only way to find out is by trying it. Pre-season is the time for experimenting, so if Santon’s thigh injury doesn’t worsen (he’s expected to return from it on the 4th July) then this summer is Pardew’s chance to try Santon in his former role.
Santon changing position can only happen if Haidara can prove himself as good enough to replace Santon at left back. Haidara has done fairly well in his few appearances for Newcastle, if he fulfills the promise he showed in France then there’s absolutely no problem. Only time will tell.
After being one of Newcastle’s best players when playing at left back, playing him in other positions could be used as way of mixing things up – rather than a permanent role. It might be silly to change position of one of Newcastle’s best players this season, but why not give it a try during pre-season though, Alan?