Davide Santon: The Unfulfilled Promise of "The Next Maldini"
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Having made his debut for the Azzurri in the summer of 2009 at the tender age of 18, Portomaggiore native Davide Santon was already seen as a player of great promise. However, now plying his trade in the English Premier League at Newcastle United he has struggled to live up to expectations.
Santon joined the Nerazzurri as a 14-year-old, rising through the ranks at an astonishing rate. It was under the tutelage of the inimitable José Mourinho that the lanky full-back made his breakthrough at the San Siro.
Thrust into action at the beginning of 2009 in a Coppa Italia encounter with AS Roma, Santon rewarded the trust that Mourinho had placed in him by producing remarkably mature displays against some of the finest teams in Italy and beyond.
Indeed, following a Champions League tie with Inter at the San Siro for Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo revealed his admiration for the young defender, stating that he was impressed by his performance.
Further praise ensued, as then-Italy coach Marcello Lippi placed the heavy title of "heir to Maldini" on the young man's shoulders and handed him his senior debut in a friendly against Northern Ireland in Pisa.
However, due to a spate of injuries and a loss of form, the career trajectory of Davide Santon has unfortunately veered erratically away from that of Milan and Italy colossus Paolo Maldini.
Maldini was introduced to the senior international at around the same age as Santon, having similarly made the breakthrough at his club.
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By the time he was 22, Maldini had 28 caps for Italy. He was a key player in Euro 88 and the 1990 World Cup and amazingly he was even named to each tournament's respective "Team of the Tournament."
Maldini quickly established himself as a linchpin in the Milan defence and went on to lead a glittering and trophy-laden career with the Rossoneri.
Santon, however, has yet to play for Italy in a major competition. At 21 years of age, he has just seven senior caps to his name and has recently been demoted to the Italian under-21 team, where, despite being handed the captain's armband, he has featured only intermittently.
His career at Inter faltered after the departure of José Mourinho and the player who had once been heralded as the future of Italian football even found himself on loan at newly promoted, but relatively lowly, Cesena in 2011.
Santon now finds himself at Newcastle United, joining for a fee of £5 million in the summer of 2011. And after a stop-start beginning to his career in England, he has cemented his place in the squad, in the process reigniting the hope that had once been placed in him by Marcello Lippi.
However, even at this early stage, such a comparison only serves to reveal the chasm in quality between the two players and ultimately highlights the dangerously premature nature of Marcello Lippi's premonition.
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