I can’t make up my mind about Davide Santon. I have always been ready to judge him harshly, as the man he replaced – Jose Enrique – is possibly the best left-back I’d seen in a Black and White shirt in my 9 seasons following the Club.
However, he is one of few in the current crop who really seems to care: his apologetic gesture to the fans away at Benfica last season (pictured above) is evidence of this. Ultimately, I think he would benefit from a change in position…
Santon impressed at both full-back positions upon his move into the first team squad at Inter Milan, as a product of their richly productive and highly prestigious youth system. Marcello Lippi – Italy national team manager at the time of Santon’s transfer to the Magpies – even dubbed the youngster “the new Maldini”: a title which has made the issue of Santon’s best position somewhat taboo, with Alan Pardew wary of going against the advice of both Lippi and the 22 year old’s previous manager, Jose Mourinho.
However, playing left-back in a dominant, title-challenging team is a very different prospect to playing left-back for Newcastle United. Santon was given far more licence to roam forward at Internazionale; while defensive contributions are far more highly valued on Tyneside.
The point being made here is simply that he does not offer enough in a purely defensive role. This becomes particularly apparent in either away matches, or those against the so called ‘big teams’: whereby the opposition have lengthy spells in position.
In these circumstances – even during the impressive recent victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea – Santon often finds himself out of position and heavily targeted. Indeed, against Spurs, the young Italian was continually found out down our left hand side, as cross after cross came into the box. Only the heroics of Tim Krul allowed us to leave White Hart Lane with 3 points.
However, this is not to say that Davide is completely defensively deficient. Rather, he provides more than enough defensive work required for a winger in Pardew’s hard-working, cohesive Newcastle team. As I covered in my last piece, ‘The Curious Case of Hatem Ben Arfa’, Pardew requires his wingers to be on-hand defensively, as part of an industrious team unit – Santon would undoubtedly comply with this.
The change to a more naturally attacking position could eventually have an effect similar to that of Gareth Bale. Although this is an extreme example, Bale’s change of position from the left side of defence to the left side of attack was brought about by the same lack of defensive discipline; but extensive attacking potential.
The latter attribute can clearly be seen from Santon at St James’ Park on matchdays. Arguably, Santon is one of our best dribblers of the ball. Furthermore, in the league last season, his 85% shot accuracy, coupled with the fact that he created 28 chances – 5th best of all Newcastle players – points to rich attacking potential which a positional change would surely unlock. Indeed, Davide’s only Newcastle goal came courtesy of a mid-game injury crisis away at Wigan last season, whereby he was pushed into an attacking right wing-back role.
Additionally, moving Santon further up the pitch may well have a positive effect on 2 young left-backs possessed by Newcastle United, who harness great potential. Massadio Haidara in my opinion is the best at the club in that position; while local boy Paul Dummett is rated particularly highly by Pardew. The current situation is hugely to the detriment of these two – Haidara in particular has only started one game this season. Moving Santon to the wing would allow one of these talented youngsters to cement a place in the first team, and provide an opportunity for the other to challenge.
Trying Santon in an attacking role may not work for Alan Pardew. However, for many reasons it could well be beneficial: the start of a meteoric rise for the young Italian.
What do you think is Santon’s best position?