Why Torino's raging bull could have the pick of clubs from England and Spain
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: December 2, 1989
- Place of birth: Legnano, Italy
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Position: Full-back
- Club: Torino (145 apps, 6 goals)
- Former club(s): Milan, Padova (loan), Palermo (loan)
- International: Italy (11 caps, 0 goals)
After failing to control Fabio Quagliarella’s cutback, Matteo Darmian sprinted after the ball, moving swiftly across the penalty area to ensure he was first to it. With his next movement he slotted calmly beyond Gigi Buffon.
The Stadio Olimpico erupted as the ball hit the back of the net, for this was only Torino’s second goal against Juventus since 2002. Just over an hour later, the Granata faithful were even more vociferous, celebrating their side’s first victory over their cross-town rivals in almost two decades.
Darmian’s career path is one well-trodden by young Italians. It started brightly as he made his debut for hometown team Milan at the tender age of 16, but faltered during loan spells with Padova and Palermo.
But it finally blossomed after he decided to join Torino in summer 2011 – the versatile defender helped them to promotion in his very first campaign, and he has since established himself as a first-team regular. His rise has mirrored his team's own steady climb up the Serie A table, as they sit 9th after 32 matches.
Why you need to know him
Last season, while the goals of Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci were instrumental in helping Toro earn a place in the Europa League, the team was built upon a solid defence and the play of its wing-backs.
Darmian was a vital component in making coach Giampiero Ventura’s 3-5-2 formation a success, missing just one match in the entire campaign and making important contributions at both ends of the pitch.
Previously uncapped by Italy, he was rewarded with a place in Cesare Prandelli’s squad that headed to Brazil, and made his debut in the 2-1 win over England.
"If you'd told me eight months ago that I'd be playing in the World Cup, I would have burst out laughing," he commented afterwards. "It was a childhood dream, but honestly I didn't think I'd get here."
As one of the few Azzurri stars to emerge with his reputation intact, the 25-year-old – voted into the 2014 Serie A Team of the Year – certainly made the most of his opportunity. He has followed it up with yet another superb season, and is continuing to develop into one of the finest defenders of his generation.
Having established himself as a regular with Torino, Darmian’s performances for Italy and in the Europa League have seen him gain much wider recognition, and it's difficult to see him staying at the Stadio Olimpico beyond this summer. Both Juventus and Roma are listed as contenders for his signature, with Arsenal, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona also believed to be keen to lure him abroad.
Darmian would likely thrive no matter where he ends up. His maturity and professionalism combines with a skill set that should transplant well into any team or league across Europe, making for a potent combination that's seen him identified as a target for the continent’s biggest clubs.
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It's easy to note Darmian’s versatility as a major strength in his game. He's featured in both wing-back roles of Torino’s 3-5-2 formation, and done the same as a more orthodox full-back during the World Cup.
He has also filled in as a central defender for the Azzurri in Antonio Conte’s three-man backline, but the biggest factor has been his incredible consistency no matter where he has been deployed.
Averaging 2.6 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game this season, Darmian has proven adept at halting opposition attacks and is always diligent in his defensive duties before venturing forwards.
When his side is in possession, the 25-year-old is comfortable either running at his man with the ball or making an intelligent pass to a better-placed team-mate.
He has improved in front of goal where, having netted just twice in his entire career before this season, 2014/15 has seen him score four times, with two coming in his first European campaign. Despite being just under 6ft tall, Darmian is also very good in the air, and has won 55% of the duels he has contested.
Surprisingly for a player so smart in possession, Darmian’s crossing remains a weakness, albeit one which may improve from playing with better team-mates. Neither Fabio Quagliarella nor Maxi Lopez are proficient in the air, although the full-back should still be attempting more crosses than the 0.4 per game he has managed in Serie A. The fact that figure leaps to 2.3 per game over his 10 Europa League appearances speaks volumes, and he registered 3 assists in that competition this term.
When it comes to full-backs making their Italy debut on the biggest stage, few are better placed to assess their potential than 1982 World Cup winner Antonio Cabrini. "It's impossible to draw comparisons as football has changed a lot since then," the Juventus legend told UEFA.com.
"Maybe the only analogy is that we both broke into the national team during a World Cup. I did it in 1978 and he has done the same in 2014 in Brazil with a brilliant performance against England.
"He can become a focal point of the Azzurri defence for many years. It all depends on him. After a very positive season in Serie A, he has the chance to keep on improving, especially by gaining important experience at international level."
Did you know?
While he is now wanted by a raft of Europe’s top sides, Darmian is yet another player to have been released by Milan, having captained their Primavera (Under-19s) side during 2007/08. The Rossoneri were the reigning European champions that season, but a failure to plan ahead saw the side disintegrate. That the club allowed likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Luca Antonelli and Alberto Paloschi – all team-mates of Darmian in the youth sector – to leave is another damning indictment of Milan’s woes.
- Shooting 6
- Heading 7
- Passing 8
- Tackling 7
- Pace 8
- Dribbling 6
- Creativity 6
- Work-rate 8
What happens next?
A summer exit seems almost certain, with the player non-committal when asked about his future during the last international break. “We will see at the end of the season,” he told reporters, only for Torino sporting director Gianluca Petrachi to downplay talk of an impending transfer. “There have been no offers for Darmian,” the club official told La Stampa earlier this month, adding: “he’ll remain with us unless he asks to be sold.” The Granata can expect a number of bids to land in their laps during the close season, with Darmian expected to be one of this year’s most sought-after stoppers.