At the age of 20, he was already a two-time Serie A champion, Coppa Italia winner, Champions League winner, a Club World Cup winner, and member of the Italian National Team. No, it’s not Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, or Paolo Maldini we’re talking about. Ladies and gents, we're talking about Davide Santon, the soon-to-be-former Giallorossi full-back. How the mighty have fallen, indeed.
Santon’s contract expires this month and, be aware because this news might shock you, Roma will NOT extend it. Ok, perhaps it’s not that shocking. Why? Because Davide hasn't played a single minute for the club since May 2021; a 45-minute run vs Spezia. His entire Roman career (2018-2022) amounts to only 53 games in all competitions, which included a lot of appearances off the bench and a lot of uninspiring performances.
So yeah, I guess we won’t miss him that much. And Santon surely won’t miss being excluded every week. But how did it all come this far for dear Davide, once hailed as Italy’s brightest prospect? A kid who would become an Inter legend like Javier Zanetti, Marco Materazzi, or Esteban Cambiasso?
When we look back at Santon’s career, I think it’s safe to say it’s not the Roman environment that destroyed it. After a promising start at Inter as a teenager (2008-2010), Santon got loaned out to Cesena for six months. However, after he returned to Inter, the club opted to keep that other fullback, Faraoni, and sell Santon to Newcastle.
In England, he finally played regularly: more than 80 league games in three seasons. He went back to the Nerazzurri in 2015 for unfinished business but things just didn’t go his way. Averaging 14-15 games per season in all competitions isn’t exactly satisfying, especially when you’re in your mid-twenties and nearing your prime. De Boer, Pioli, Spalletti, none of them really counted on Santon at Inter.
During the summer of 2018 Inter and Roma planned a massive transfer involving three players: Nicolo ‘Primavera jewel’ Zaniolo and Davide ‘damaged goods’ Santon would join Roma while Inter got a 30-year-old Radja Nainggolan. Santon signed through 2022 and did... nothing noteworthy actually. In four frikkin’ seasons. Zaniolo on the other hand turned out to be a real steal and is now regarded as one of Italy’s brightest prospects (sounds familiar?). Just like Santon 12 years ago. Oh, the irony.
Admittedly, Santon also got halted by several injuries during his stay in Rome. But the arrival of a certain José Mourinho last year made me believe in a Santon comeback. I mean, this was the man who guided a 19-year-old Santon to a formidable treble, a coach who recognized his potential. He didn’t ignore his talent but deemed him too young to be truly part of that great Inter defense alongside Samuel, Zanetti, Chivu, Maicon, and Lucio. That’s understandable, even our own Roger Ibaeñz and Gianluca Mancini would have had trouble breaking through.
By the time Santon returned from his loan spell in Cesena, Mourinho was already gone so we will never know if José would truly give Davide a shot. But in anno 2021 both men worked together once again. A unique moment for Santon to prove himself to José after more than 10 years.
After all, what's not to be loved? He was Italian, not too old, and able to play on left and right, while also bringing size and strength to the position. Santon could have been a cheap option as a vice-Karsdorp or even as a starting left-back since Leonardo Spinazzola was injured and Matías Viña was a newcomer in Serie A. He and Mou made history together. Yes yes, yes, this was supposed to be a redeeming season for Santon, one in which he could have turned into a Panucci, Zambrotta, Facchetti, or Tassotti!
... Or maybe not. Zero appearances, not even on the bench, and now he's leaving Roma through the backdoor. Mourinho opted for Karsdorp and Viña at the start, even Ibañez, Zalewski, and SES were deployed as wingbacks instead of Santon. For God’s sake, Maitland-Niles came to Rome in January to offer support at right-back. Clearly, something big went wrong at Trigoria. Perhaps Santon dated José’s daughter (he does have a daughter, right?) or broke his favorite watch.
What exactly did Santon do to deserve such a lackluster exit? We’ll never know. But apart from his Newcastle days, Santon has never been a starter anywhere, while multiple coaches either had no use for him or didn't trust him enough to lead the defense. That says something.
I guess Davide just didn’t make the right choices. He should have never returned to Inter in 2015 or picked a smaller Italian team like Sampdoria, Fiorentina, or Sassuolo to revive his career. Instead, he simply opted to stay on the bench or in the stands at both Inter and Roma without asking or demanding a transfer, not even during the winter transfer market. Or maybe try to rescind his contract. Nothing. To be honest, he doesn’t really look like an ambitious person to me, at least for a professional football player.
Now 31, Davide still has some football years left in him. Good, bad, or ugly, who knows. But I reckon some smaller teams in Italy would still be tempted to take the risk. He still enjoys that golden reputation from 2010, that will never go away. Lucky for him. Could he be a fit for Spezia, Bologna, Sampdoria, Salernitana, Monza or Lecce? Guaranteed playing time, isn’t that the most important thing right now?
After a career spanning 14 years, Davide gets one more chance for redemption. Let’s hope it’s the right one this time.