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Can Davide Santon Save His Career with Roma?

Forget about his past, there is value here.

Pescara Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

If you’ve been with CdT for awhile, you no doubt remember me beating the drum for Davide Santon quite loudly over the years. Dating all the way back to 2012, which was my first year writing here, I opined for Santon, seeing his size, versatility and technique as the perfect solutions to Roma’s perpetual fullback problems. My plan was simple: nab Santon for €7 million or so, slot him in behind Federico Balzaretti for a year, and then reap the rewards.

The notion that Roma would have gotten such a highly regarded prospect so cheaply sounds crazy looking back on it—after all we’re talking about a kid who made his debut as an adolescent under Jose Mourinho in 2009, earned praise from Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League, and was tipped as the next Maldini by Marcello Lippi—but that’s how good and how widely regarded Santon was a decade ago. Nothing could go wrong. Until it did.

Starting with a meniscus injury he suffered in the fall of 2009, Santon’s once promising career entered a period of uncertainty, one that has lasted nearly a decade. While Santon managed to return to the pitch in January of 2010, he quickly reinjured that same knee, only this time he needed surgery to repair the damage, effectively wiping out his 2009-2010 season.

Compounding those injury concerns was a change on the Inter bench. Despite winning the Champions League in the spring of 2010, Mourinho felt compelled to leave behind his treble winning club for the always greener pastures of Real Madrid. While there were many, many consequences to this move, given the benefit of hindsight, this was really the point at which Santon’s career went off the rails.

Upon returning from injury, Santon wasn’t exactly embraced by Inter’s new manager, Rafa Benitez. Still, Santon was an intriguing kid, and in order to ensure his value didn’t completely plummet he was loaned to Cesena for the remainder of the 2010-2011 season.

While he played well enough for Cesena, the loan wasn’t as productive as many had hoped, and in a case of bitter deja vu, Santon once again returned to a completely different Inter Milan than he had left. Gone was Benitez, replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini, who quickly placed Davide Faraoni ahead of Santon in the pecking order.

And with that simple move, Santon’s career with Inter was effectively over, for the time being at least. From there, Santon spent a three-year stretch with Newcastle that, while lacking in acclaim, did see him log some significant minutes for the Premiership club, eclipsing the 2,000 minute mark in two of his three seasons with the Tyneside club. Just when it seemed like Santon had found a home in England, injuries once again curtailed his progress, as a knee injury in the summer of 2014 sidelined him for several months, ultimately leading to his release from the club.

With his proverbial hat in hand, Santon returned to Inter during the winter of 2015, and while he was in discussions with Sunderland and West Ham at varying points since his return, he’s remained an Inter player ever since, logging roughly 1,800 mostly anonymous minutes over the past two seasons.

Still, Santon is only 27-years-old and has seemingly put his injury woes behind him. While we can only excuse Santon’s struggles away so many times, his career was markedly different after that initial meniscus injury in the fall of 2009. After battling back from that injury, Santon was set to return to Mourinho’s good graces, but rather than reclaiming his spot in the team, he re-injured the knee, and by the time he recovered from the surgery Mourinho was gone, leaving Santon to spend the next eight years wandering the desert, following everyone from Roberto Mancini to Frank de Boer to Stefano Vecchi on the path towards salvation.

Given all that—the injuries, the revolving managers, the constantly changing roles—it’s no wonder Santon has struggled to find a footing anywhere, and but for god’s good graces, there goes Alessandro Florenzi. One minute, he’s hot shit, the next he’s injured and everyone who supported and nurtured him was gone. Hell, he’s played under five different managers since returning to Inter in 2015!

I’m not saying he’ll suddenly blossom into the star he was once destined to be, but why can’t Eusebio Di Francesco and Roma squeeze every ounce of value out of Santon? EDF isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so he won’t have to worry about a stream of mixed messages, and he’s probably second in line behind Aleksandar Kolarov and Florenzi at both full-back spots, depending on what happens with Juan Jesus and Rick Karsdorp, so playing time shouldn’t really be an issue.

Santon’s days as the next Maldini are dead and gone, but at 27-years-old Santon may have finally landed in a safe space, one in which he can become a solid, steady and dependable pro, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.