The pre-season friendlies have well and truly begun, and naturally, social media is littered with hot takes and tactical analysis of games that are played for the sole purpose of integrating new signings into the first team and building fitness ahead of the new season.
Amidst the bedlam, United are still negotiating deals, the nature of some unclear, with others pretty obvious, at this point in time. The Red Devils are reported to be in advanced talks to finally rope in Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic as the clubs are still believed to be haggling over a few million quid—a power struggle that has stretched for weeks now. But recent developments suggest that the Milanese club are indeed looking for a cash + player deal to part with one of their best attacking players and that player happens to be United’s only Italian international Matteo Darmian.
Football Italia, usually one of the more reliable sources when it comes to the nitty-gritty of Italian football, has mentioned a few questionable news outlets in the piece that revealed the latest information, but it’s hard to imagine why Mourinho wouldn’t have considered the likelihood of selling his second-choice left-back for a player who could hugely benefit Lukaku and the rest of United’s offense.
But was Mourinho right? Should Manchester United sell one of their own most important and consistent footballers towards the back-end of last campaign to accommodate a new signing, who they could buy anyway?
Matteo Darmian has been one of United’s steady-eddies last season—whenever he was called upon to do a defensive job at every position across that back four, he did it without any fuss. At a time when the Red Devils struggled to field orthodox defenders, the Italian, always known for his industrious work-rate and doing his defensive duties right by sticking to the basics, proved to be a very vital player for Mourinho, who almost always counted on the 27-year old in crunch games in the final months of the season.
The Italian did not just merely feature in key fixtures throughout April and May but also managed to have a positive effect on most of those big occasions, where his experience and diligent defending has often bailed him out, compensating for the lack of threatening pace and crossing abilities of a modern fullback.
He was one of the best players at Old Trafford when Manchester United outwitted Chelsea. From a left-back position, he stifled the dangerous Pedro for the entirety of the game. The Italian was once again vital as Mourinho’s well-drilled United snuffed out the explosive young attacking talents of Ajax Amsterdam in Stockholm. In two of Mourinho’s most typical victories in 2016/17, Darmian has been one of, if not the stand-out performer at United.
The 27-year old clocked close to 2000 minutes of first-team football for United in 2016/17—where he particularly shone in the successful Europa League campaign, making 7 appearances, averaging a combined 6 tackles and interceptions per game and a WhoScored.com rating of 7.17. Yet, there is a consensus that Darmian would never establish himself as the first-choice left-back with the game moving on towards more dynamic full-backs, whose primary task is often to create scoring opportunities as opposed to tracking the opposition winger.
The Italian addressed the rumours surrounding his future at United as early as May when he admitted to the intensity of competition at United for full-back places and the fact that he was suffering from it. But in reality, Manchester United are still without a reliable and established full-back who could play week-in week-out in what is expected to be another long and hard season.
Luke Shaw is on the mend while Antonio Valencia is on the wrong side of 30 to be involved in three games in a week, meaning Matteo Darmian is in the best position to grab any opportunity that will most certainly come his way. With the World Cup on the horizon, it is understandable if the Italian wanted out of Manchester for more guaranteed playing time but that doesn’t solve any problems at Old Trafford and if anything, it would only create one.
Losing Matteo Darmian will be a bigger blow for Jose Mourinho than when he let go of the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, and Bastian Schweinsteiger in January. The Portuguese was left with a weaker squad in terms of both size and, arguably, quality, to navigate through a fairly congested fixture list in the second half of 2016/17.
Darmian’s loss could prove to be even more fatal for the season to come.