Having a couple of players capable of performing reasonably in multiple positions is generally a good idea for a football team. Solid — if unspectacular — players can help stave off injury crises by stepping into the first team as rotation in the ‘easier’ games, as well as offering good cover in the unfortunate event such a crisis breaks out. United’s problem, however, is that almost their entire defence is comprised of such players. The logic for keeping on even first-team regulars like Phil Jones and Chris Smalling — patently not good enough for a side with title ambitions — is that they can at least play everywhere across the back line.
All of this is to say that Matteo Darmian’s unique selling point isn’t particularly unique. He’s only useful to Manchester United for as long as they fail to sign proper defenders, and, with any luck, they will finally do so over the summer. The 29-year-old isn’t a bad player, and indeed could be pretty useful for a good team elsewhere, but United are chock full of mediocre defenders, and he’s likely to only get bumped further down the pecking order in the transfer window. 10 Premier League starts over the last two seasons probably isn’t enough to warrant keeping him on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s finally played his last game for the Reds. JS
Matteo Darmian made a total of 7 appearances this season, including one in which he came off the bench for roughly 60 seconds of “playing” time. In 2018-19, Darmian was not even named to the matchday squad for more than half of United’s matches. Primarily a right-back, Darmian’s most notable contributions this season were a surprise inclusion at left wing-back against Arsenal — let us never forget the bizarre and pathetic death throes of the José Mourinho era — and a start in the Manchester derby in last month that was greeted with a collective “Oh, yeah, forgot about him.”
Still, Darmian has mostly escaped heavy criticism from United fans. It’s not because he is a good player; he most certainly is not. He’s never done anything of note to earn a cult following either, like other lesser and more likeable players before him. Instead, it’s because his status as a non-entity isn’t really his fault. Signed by Louis van Gaal because of his ability to occupy multiple roles in a particular system, it wasn’t Darmian’s fault that both system and manager found themselves on the scrap heap. Mourinho rated him for his versatility and professionalism, and refused to condone a cut-price move away for the full-back to get regular playing time. Aside from Marouane Fellaini, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was loathe to see any of the squad depart in January before he had a chance to assess them. So Darmian stayed, and trained, and remained in limbo. It was never a great fit for either club or player, and Darmian’s forgettable United tenure will likely come to an end in the coming months. BM