The Spaniard’s defection to Liverpool at the beginning of August left a gaping hole in the squad, one that manager Alan Pardew needed to fill. But with restrictions on transfer fees and the kind of player he was allowed to buy many lost hope that a quality defender would be brought in replace the departed Enrique. Geordie fans were worried that they’d be lumbered with inferior players like Nicky Shorey or Wayne Bridge who just weren’t up to par with the expectations on Tyneside. Despite PSV Eindhoven’s Erik Pieters being the prime target for Pardew he sprang a huge surprise when he announced the signing of 20-year-old Italian Davide Santon from Inter Milan. Capped by the national side and with a glowing endorsement from former boss Jose Mourinho it seemed like Newcastle had pulled off a massive coup. Unfortunately the comparisons to a former Italian misfit immediately began to surface and questions were raised as to whether he was a suitable enough replacement.
13 years ago Alessandro Pistone made a similar move whilst Kenny Dalglish was manning the dugout at St James’. A huge amount of hype surrounded the young Italian after a fantastic season in Serie A with Inter and Newcastle felt that they had pulled off a massive feat in bringing him in for the small sum of £4.5 million. Fast forward 12 months and Pistone was the subject of much derision from Geordie fans with his under-par performances and inability to get to grips with the Premier League seeing him fail to live up to the heady expectations set by those in black and white. Inter must have been laughing all the way to the bank and there is now the fear that Santon will go the same way as his predecessor. It’s easy to see why many fans will go down that route of thinking, with the parallels between the two almost indistinguishable. Unfortunately some fans will come to this conclusion and one bad game will see them instantly write Santon off as another Pistone and claim he isn’t fit to clean Enrique’s boots. I don’t speak for every Newcastle fan but I bet my bottom dollar there will be some who utter those exact words.
If anyone ever does say that I’d respectfully disagree because the young Italian is a fine player and at his age can still improve. I’ve watched him a few times for Inter and his calmness and composure on the ball, for a full back, is incredible. Santon actually has a level of intelligence about his play that will fit in well with the new on-field philosophy at Newcastle, which is to pass the ball and work openings. His decision making and reading of the game is also pretty good and I’d go as far as to say it’s superior to that of Enrique’s who used to get caught out quite a lot and had to use his pace and strength to recover situations. On the subject of speed Santon has that in abundance, as he is lightning quick up and down the wing and can also deliver crosses with either foot. His ambidexterity will certainly be his biggest asset in his maiden season as it will allow him to charge down the line and deliver a cross or cut inside and have a shot on goal.
There are a few concerns though over whether he will be able to withstand the physical nature of the Premier League and whether he will smoothly adjust to a new country and culture, but he wouldn’t be the first to have proved that theory wrong. I believe Newcastle have an exciting talent on their hands and a worthy replacement for the departed Enrique. Santon possess’ a lot of the same qualities as the Spaniard and at 20-years of age has time to develop and acclimatize to the rigors of English football. There is no doubt in my mind that he will go in the opposite direction to Alessandro Pistone and will be a major success at St James’ Park. Not every defender is labeled the next Paolo Maldini are they?!
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