The Manchester Evening News yesterday reported that Rafael da Silva would be allowed to leave Old Trafford this summer, and so by implication suggested that Manchester United had a ready-made right-back replacement lined up. It couldn't be Nathaniel Clyne, and it looked ever-less like being Séamus Coleman. Who was the mystery man waiting in the wings?
We now know that it's probably Torino's 25-year-old Milanese full-back Matteo Darmian, who is apparently suspending his sideline as Lombardy's top Alex Turner lookalike to complete a move to United.
Darmian would certainly be a good signing for United, if not a great one. Released by boyhood club AC Milan back in 2009, he's been something of a late bloomer in Italy, and only made his first full international appearance last year on the back of a string of impressive performances for mid-table side Torino. He has since established himself as one of the first names on the Azzurri teamsheet, and was awarded the Pallone Azzurro for 2014 -- a title handed annually to the national team's best performer -- with his marauding runs down the flanks vital in giving Antonio Conte's narrow formation some width.
As you'd expect, Darmian's attacking play is the most eye-catching aspect of his game, as Leighton Baines found out when he was given the runaround in Italy's win over England at last summer's World Cup. The Italian is an outstanding athlete, and always stretches opponents with deep runs to the byline. His crossing is erratic and his end product comes up short of world class, but he's positionally excellent and has an impatient drive for goal that we'd like to see more of in the timid Antonio Valencia.
Though you're more likely to notice Darmian in the opposition half, he's arguably a better defender than he is an attacker. Belied by his pace and mobility is the fact that he started out his career as a centre-back, and still features there for Torino -- usually on the right side of a defensive trio. He's no stranger to a crunching challenge, and the statistically inclined will be pleased to note that he finished 2014 having completed more tackles per game than anyone else in Europe's top five leagues (at least according to WhoScored).
It's probably Darmian's defensive play, more than anything else, that will warm the heart of Louis van Gaal. He likes his full-backs to be risk-averse and solid at the back -- and though Darmian may not be much of an offensive improvement on Rafael, he's certainly got more going for him in this regard. At 25, he's also got a good few years of optimum performance left in him, and coming from Torino, who are ultimately a selling club, he shouldn't be too overpriced. Reports have suggested the figure will be somewhere in the region of £15 million.
All in all, Darmian would be a pretty smart signing for United: young enough, cheap enough, versatile and compatible with Louis van Gaal's playing style. Let's just hope we can get the deal done and sign a new face or two to sit alongside him in defence.