Adam Digby6 Comments


Adam Digby6 Comments

How will the young Italian take to life in Newcastle? Let's look for clues from past experience.

A well-worn tale from Newcastle United's 1998 Christmas party tells of players exchanging 'novety' presents; the bald-headed Temuri Ketsbaia was given a hairbrush while house burglar's favourite Duncan Ferguson got a prison shirt from his no doubt nervous team-mates. The oddest gift of all was bestowed upon young Italian defender Alessandro Pistone, the then 23-year-old presented with a sheep's heart directly from a local butcher's, apparently because he "didn't have one of his own".

Things had started well for the left-back, purchased for £4.5 million the year before from Inter and lauded as something of a coup for then manager Kenny Dalglish. The Liverpool legend made Pistone a regular and publicly stated a case for the players inclusion in Cesare Maldini's Italy Squad for the 1998 World Cup. He was well respected in his native country, having captained the Under-21 side and played a part in the victorious 1996 European U-21 Championship alongside Gigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Francesco Totti, scoring a penalty in the final.

It would quickly deteriorate when Dalglish was replaced by Ruud Gullit as the Dutchman would refuse to give him a squad number and fail to start him in a single game during his ill-fated tenure. Forced to train with the reserves along with club captain Rob Lee and then loaned to Venezia, he would return to prominence under Sir Bobby Robson and enjoy a seven year stay at Everton.

Pistone's reputation was forever tarnished by his spell in the North East, something which, despite his disastrous spell there, did not happen to another promising young Italian to join the St James' Park club. Giuseppe Rossi arrived at Newcastle on loan in the summer of 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson struggling to find room for the exciting but unproven prospect, Manchester United's strong squad restricting him to just five appearances over a two year spell.

Sadly the same would happen at Newcastle, where he would play just thirteen times in the first half season, a situation that his parent club refused to tolerate. Glenn Roeder's treatment of Rossi annoyed Ferguson, who then sent him to Parma where his nine goals and four assists would, in just nineteen appearances, save Claudio Ranieri's side from what seemed like certain relegation.

The story is well known from there, Rossi would move to Villarreal and become one of the most coveted strikers in European football and identified as a clear target for Barcelona, a team with the style and ideals that have defined him as a player.

At best then, prospects from the Italian peninsula have had a difficult time at Newcastle, but this week has seen another of the Azzurri's brightest young stars has opted to join The Toon as Davide Santon was added to Alan Pardew's side as the transfer window drew to a close.

Santon, in addition to being a fantastically talented defensive prospect has, surprisingly for a 20-year-old Italian player, a good level of experience in the top division, playing over 50 games for Inter, as well as 11 starts for Cesena where he spent the second part of last season on loan. He has also featured seven times for the Italian national team, making him very much ahead of the curve in a country notoriously sceptical of young players.

Two years ago it was Jose Mourinho giving the player his Inter debut in the Copa Italia, inserting him into the starting line-up after a disastrous performance at Atalanta from Maxwell. He played well enough to keep his place in the side, no mean feat in a squad as strong as the one assembled by Inter in recent seasons.

A few weeks later Manchester United visited San Siro in a tie that would see Santon pitted directly against Cristiano Ronaldo. The match would end scoreless and the Portuguese player was quick to praise the youngster who had kept him largely in check throughout the ninety minutes; "I was impressed by Santon; he is really interesting, a great footballer."

By the end of the season he had breezed through the Under-21 set-up to become a full International, making his debut in a 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland. From there however, the only way was seemingly down and, as Inter chased a remarkable treble, he was relegated to the bench and then shunted around with no real continuity with injuries and a glaring lack of confidence slowing his progress.

Under Massimo Ficcadenti however, the defender would slowly begin to rebuild his reputation. Much like the way Cesare Prandelli showed faith in him after replacing Marcello Lippi as Italy coach, the belief shown in him was reflected in his performances. He won 84.6% of challenges and completed 85.2% of his passing during his spell at the Dino Manuzzi while collecting just one yellow card.

His improvement should have brought him back to the forefront of planning for Inter and Italy, where his versatility could be vital. Instead he moves to the Premier league club, meaning a player who should have been vital to the future of his club has been sold, an odd move made even less sensible with the onset of Financial Fair Play and quotas on home-grown players.

It must be hoped he is given more of a chance at St James' Park than Giuseppe Rossi and, as the Milan-born Alessandro Pistone could tell the youngster, Gallowgate is a long way from the Guiseppe Meazza.

Adam is a freelance football writer, and co-founder of Juventi Knows. Follow him on Twitter@Adz77