Who Is The Right Right-Back?

It was reported yesterday, that Manchester United had agreed a fee of €17.8 million with Italian club Torino for the transfer of right-back Matteo Darmian who will arguably be an unknown to many. Educated at Italian giants AC Milan, Darmian cannot really look back at a career of much distinction. In fact, the current Italy international had such an unremarkable past, that at almost 26 years of age, he has yet to play a minute of Champions League football. Having failed to break through at Milan, the defender was loaned out to Serie B side Padova in 2009 and played a decent enough season for Palermo to agree a co-ownership deal with the Rossoneri, which would see the player join the Sicilian club in 2010.

After only one season and 16 appearances in the Sicilian capital, Darmian was initially loaned out to, then Serie B side, Torino in 2011 and eventually purchased by the Turin-based outfit for a total fee just shy of €2.5 million. He quickly established himself as the club’s starting right-back and, along with teammate Ciro Immobile, even made the Serie A team of the year in 2014, a year during which he impressed enough to earn himself a starting spot in Italy’s disastrous World Cup campaign in Brazil. There was a silver lining for Darmian however, as he was elected Italy’s best player in 2014.

In terms of statistics, Darmian can look back at 114 Serie A games with a contribution of two goals, six assists, 18 yellow cards and two sending-offs. He is a versatile defender that initially started off as a centre back. Darmian is tactically strong, as is the case with many Italian players, and benefits from great pace in his forward runs. Although the above sounds like Manchester United made a decent purchase, the question as to why the club did not go for a better alternative remains. Therefore, we look at other right-backs who have recently joined big clubs.

Arguably, Manchester United’s most sensible alternative would have been former Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne who recently joined Liverpool for a comparable €17.7 million. The England international looked like a perfect fit for the attack-minded approach of the Red Devils and would have come with extensive Premier League experience. In fact, in 8,027 Premier League minutes, compared to Darmian’s 9,178 Serie A minutes, Clyne provided eight assists, scored three goals and collected nine yellow cards. In addition to this, Clyne would have benefited from not having to get acclimatised in a new country. As such, the 24-year old Englishman seems a better player than Darmian.

In Spain, Barcelona went for 25-year old Spaniard Aleix Vidal, who joined the club from Sevilla for €17 million. Incredibly attack-minded and often used as a winger, Vidal is the perfect fit for Barcelona’s attacking style. The player who had been partially educated at Barca’s La Masia academy, looks back at 5,525 minutes in 69 La Liga outings, with a contribution of ten goals, 12 assists and 12 yellow cards. Again, this seems like a much better option than Matteo Darmian.

Finally, the right-back that recently left Barcelona to join Inter Milan on loan also looks like a decent addition. Martin Montoya had always played for Barcelona, having been educated at their famous academy. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, he failed to get past Brazil international Dani Alves and was therefore often only regarded as a great back-up rather than a regular. Nevertheless, Montoya’s statistics suggest that another potential great has taken the right step this summer. In 3,257 La Liga minutes, accumulated in 45 games, Montoya provided five assists, scored one goal and received one yellow card. Interestingly, Montoya is the only one of our right-backs, who has Champions League experience, having played 447 minutes in Europe’s elite competition, with one goal and two assists to his name. Inter will surely benefit from a player who is raring to go and if more scouts paid attention, the Spaniard would have surely returned to the Champions League in 2015.

The above examples of right-backs show that there is a crop of players out there who are in the process of furthering their respective careers and it seems unlikely that all of the above will succeed. However, what is arguably obvious is that Manchester United had better options this summer, at least on paper, and might eventually regret not recruiting someone other than Matteo Darmian. On the other hand, we might be wide off the mark and the Italian might impress us all and silence all critics soon.