If you’ve been with CdT for awhile, you’re no doubt familiar with my stance on Davide Santon: I’ve wanted him at Roma for years, penning my first overture for his services some 69 months ago (69!). While I was perhaps a bit naive in my desire for Santon, it wasn’t that far fetched. Even back then, all the way in 2012 when he was barely 21-years-old, Santon had lost a bit of his youthful sheen. Thanks to some lingering injuries and, shall we say organizational instability at Inter Milan, Santon’s once promising career had derailed to the point where he was shipped off to Newcastle, for whom he didn’t exactly flourish, while the intervening years were equally unkind to a kid many viewed as the next great Italian defender nearly a decade ago.
So even as a devout Santonphile, I was a bit skeptical, though still excited, when Roma signed him this summer. Santon was essentially an afterthought in the Radja Nainggolan-Nicolo Zaniolo swap/sale; kind of like the $4 of $5 purchase you used to make to qualify for free shipping on Amazon before everyone and their mother converted to Prime.
Point being, you were right to have exceedingly low expectations for Santon, but since this is Roma we’re talking about those low expectations soon devolved into a chorus of four letter words and personal attacks on Santon.
However, as we preached in late June, if you really looked at what Santon had been through (the injuries, the transfers and the parade of managers he’s played under) and adjusted your expectations accordingly, there was a silver lining to this move. Santon was finally entering an organization with tactical and managerial stability (thank god I didn’t write this last week, right?), and with little between him and Roma’s starting fullbacks other than the ghost of Rick Karsdorp’s knees, if nothing else he had the chance to have a role on a winning club, which, given all he’d been through over the past six years, was progress.
And, well, don’t look now but we may be in the midst of a Davide Santon revival. With two solid to stellar returns in a row against Roma’s neighbors, Frosinone and Lazio, the 27-year-old fullback once deemed the next Maldini may have finally found a home. Whether he’s deputizing Florenzi in the 4-3-3 or starting at fullback in the 4-2-3-1, Santon is establishing himself as a legitimate third fullback, providing grit, flexibility and poise to Roma’s back four.
Oh, and in case you forgot, he can, from time to time, do things like this:
I have to be honest, I’ve watched that at least a dozen times. Not only does he avoid the initial oncoming defender, he dribbled his way past the second while narrowly avoiding the rear challenge from the third; it was a remarkable bit of intuition. And while his ensuing pass was a bit off the mark, this was unlike anything we’ve seen from Santon in a Roma shirt. Moves like that tell me one thing; his confidence is growing, and growing fast.
Santon likely won’t supplant either of Florenzi or Kolarov any time soon, and he damn sure won’t be the “Next Maldini” but as we mentioned in June, at nearly every step in his career Santon was plagued by insecurity, never having a consistent role, manager or even club to guide him during his developmental phase.
Given Roma’s financial problems, Santon was granted that security by virtue of being a warm body on a club that needs to preserve resources whenever and wherever possible, but if his performance over the past week was any indication, Santon’s role on this club will be as legitimate and earned as it gets.
While Lorenzo Pellegrini grabbed most of the plaudits in Roma’s 3-1 trouncing of Lazio in the Derby della Capitale, Santon wasn’t far behind him. In 90 minutes of action, Santon had one shot on goal, one key pass, two successful dribbles, drew two fouls and had a team-high four interceptions, all while completing nearly 81% of his passes and was instrumental in effectively removing Senad Lulic from the match.
Now, we obviously can’t expect Santon to repeat this performance week in and week out (if he did, he’d be out of Roma’s price range) but if he can either A) conjure this up once a month as a backup, or B) bring a fraction of this to the table consistently then Roma and Santon will be sitting pretty.
Davide Santon is only 27-years-old, so there is a lot of football left in the legs underneath that handsome face, and it’s starting to really feel as though things are finally falling into place for him.