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Davide Santon – The Future of the Azzurri?

With the seemingly imminent departure of Maicon from the San Siro, as well as Italy’s need for a long term replacement for Gianluca Zambrotta, the 2010/11 season could be a fruitful one for Inter’s Davide Santon. The 19-year-old fullback already has five senior international caps to his name; some achievement in a country which values experience above all else.

When Santon arrived at the Inter Milan academy aged 14, he was a winger, but as he progressed he developed into a fullback, and a versatile one who is equally adept on both sides. Some might describe him as the ‘modern fullback’, and he is in a similar mould to Inter legend Javier Zanetti. He is a marauding fullback whose electric pace is underpinned by close control. He can defend too. Despite his slight build, he has deceiving strength both shoulder to shoulder and in the tackle.

Santon first broke onto the scene in the 2008/09 season. And there was no easing him into the team against weak opposition, as Jose Mourinho handed him his debut against Roma in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal. The next month, Santon made his first appearance in the Champions League when Inter welcomed Manchester United to the San Siro. He was given the simple task of marking Cristiano Ronaldo, and his superb performance drew plaudits from Ronaldo himself. He made sixteen Serie A appearances that season, impressing at both left and right back, and had a growing reputation as one of Italy’s best prospects.

Ronaldo was full of praise for the defender

The Inter academy graduate didn’t don the famous black and blue shirt as much as he would have liked last season, but that was much down to a recurring knee injury which forced him to have surgery. But then again, the fifteen matches he managed in all competitions is still a respectable feat when you consider who he had to play understudy to. Maicon, arguably the best right back in the world, and Javier Zanetti, long serving club captain.

Despite his slight lack of game time, Santon was still part of the squad which recorded that historic treble. And whilst fans were still celebrating the last of those successes, the Champions League, Jose Mourinho was on his way to Madrid. Rafael Benitez is the man charged with following on from the man who won everything, and by simply winning matches, the Spaniard isn’t likely to make his mark on the Nerrazzuri. So Benitez will probably be looking to address the two main criticisms directed at the Inter side of recent years; by introducing more Italians into a team which at times last season didn’t boast a single Italian in the starting line-up, as well as bringing more young players through. And Davide Santon fits both of those categories. And then when you consider that Brazilian right back Maicon is rumoured to be wanting to follow Mourinho to the Bernabeu, and Santon could be looked upon as a ready-made replacement.

Maicon’s rumoured departure could pave the way for more first team action for Santon

The season ahead could also prove prosperous for Santon internationally, as he looks to add to his five Italy appearances. The Azzurri will be looking to review both the personnel and the structure of the side after such a dismal World Cup. And new boss Cesare Prandelli could look at bringing the Inter wonderkid into the team ready for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, by which point Gianluca Zambrotta will be 35.

Davide Santon Davide Santon of Italy during the training on June 4, 2009 in Florence, Italy.

Marcello Lippi gave Santon his Italy debut aged 18

So Davide Santon will undoubtedly have a big role to play in the Inter Milan setup this season, and with that comes added pressure. He is one of a select few who Italy will be pinning their hopes on to prove there is a bright future for the Italian game. But he has already proved he can deal with pressure, none more so than when he came into the team in the Champions League against Manchester United, and marked Ronaldo out of the game. Don’t be surprised to see him be a regular fixture in the national team in the near future, either.

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