Matteo Darmian departs Manchester United to sign for Parma; a model professional, never moaned about his predicament

Manchester United confirmed the departure of Matteo Darmian who has signed a four-year contract with Serie A side Parma. The 29-year-old has spent four years at United, making a total of 92 appearances, scoring one goal. There was a period, at the start of his career that the Italian was lauded as the next Gary Neville, but that soon burned out.

At the time Louis van Gaal signed Darmian, it was a signing that was welcomed at the club as a fullback was needed to take the pressure off Antonio Valencia, who had predominantly played in the position after being converted from a winger. That did not really work well for United, despite the Ecuadorian knuckling down and aiming to perform.

The 29-year-old settled in his role until he lost his early form which had seen him likened to Neville. Darmian cost United £12.7 million and has been sold for £3.4 million along with a sell-on clause being inserted in the deal so that if the player moves again, United will receive a percentage of the final transfer fee. A good move by the Old Trafford club.

Some may moan about the relatively small transfer fee but when you consider the fact that that player was into his last year at the club and could sign a pre-contract with foreign clubs as early as January, remaining at United for the rest of this season and leaving as a free agent, it shows that United got as good a deal as they could.

The Italian will be remembered for his early form and the fact that it was thought the club had found a fullback that could lead the club forward after the likes of Neville and Rafael da Silva has played in the position. He will also be known for his professionalism. Since Van Gaal was sacked at the end of the 2015/16 season, Darmian’s playing time had decreased.

During his first season, the Italian played 39 times, which was also the season he scored his first and only goal for the club. The following season (2016/17), Darmian played 29 times, ten fewer than the previous season. Under Jose Mourinho in the 2016/17 season, in which United won the EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League, Darmian played 17 times.

During the 2018/19 season, Darmian played seven times, just three times under current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, starting twice. It was clear that the Italian was not going to feature much for the club and had previously lost his place in the Italian national team, last playing for his country in 2017. He never once moaned about not playing, which was good to see, especially in this day an age.

At one stage during his United career, it was suggested that Darmian could emulate both Gary Neville and Patrice Evra, two of the most recent fullbacks that achieved a lot for the club. Darmian, however, suggested that it was impossible for him to emulate these two clubs legends, which suggests that although he was proud for this to me mentioned, he was also a realist, saying:

“They are two full-backs that have created football history, not only at Manchester United but in the world. I’ve seen them both play, they have both been two very important pillars for United. They’ve contributed to the success of the club.

“Patrice played in Italy last season so I had the possibility of more contact with him. I played against him twice in the derbies [against Juventus], and in Italy he is proving to be a champion just like he was at United. Obviously, Gary Neville was captain at United and is a legend at the club, the victories he had, the trophies he won … his story speaks volumes.”

This summer, Solskjaer has moved on more players than he has signed, which will be seen as a gamble, which is exactly what it is. If you look into it though, you will see that he has allowed players who were not going to be given many opportunities to play football elsewhere. Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera left the club as free agents in the summer.

Marouane Fellaini was sold to a Chinese club in January. Romelu Lukaku was sold to Inter Milan a matter of weeks ago with Alexis Sanchez joining the club on loan for the season and Chris Smalling heading to Roma for the season on loan. Darmian was the last player to leave this summer and I wish him all the best at his new club, Parma.

Looking at Manchester United’s defensive depth for the 2019/20 season

Manchester United did well during the summer transfer window, adding Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who signed from Crystal Palace and Harry Maguire, who arrived from Leicester City. It was a summer that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed to pay attention to the defence, which allowed more than 50 goals to be conceded in the Premier League along last season.

Solskjaer spent £125 million; £80 million for Maguire and an initial £45 million for Wan-Bissaka giving some much-needed defensive ability ahead of the 2019/20 season in which United would be tasked with chasing the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, to regain a place in the top four of the league.

United finished sixth last season, five points adrift of a place in the top four, which could have been much different if United managed to beat both Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City at the end of the season. However, hindsight is only fantastic when you look back as if you change two factors, other factors may have had to change also.

Goalkeeper depth; Solskjaer does not need to worry in this area.

Solskjaer has three great first-team options in goal this season; David De Gea, Sergio Romero and Lee Grant. That will be the order of importance in the squad. The club also had the likes of Dean Henderson, Joel Pereira and Kieran O’Hara, who have all been loaned out to Sheffield United, Hearts of Midlothian and Burton Albion respectively.

De Gea will be the go-to guy to start the majority of matches, namely in the Premier League. As for the Carabao Cup, the UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup, it could well be Romero who features, as he did in the cup competitions last season, other than the UEFA Champions League, of course. Grant could be a shoo-in for matches in these competitions too.

It was hoped that Henderson could have been afforded time in the Premier League this season but with De Gea’s contract being extended by the extra year agreed to in 2015, it was unlikely that he would be the first option in the goalkeeping ranks, however, he will get that Premier League experience he craved for, which might do him some good.

Fullback depth; Solskjaer’s options are much improved this season.

Last season, United’s defence left a lot to be desired. First of all, in the fullback position, Jose Mourinho, who started the season as manager, then Solskjaer had Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, and Diogo Dalot to choose from in both the left-back and right-back positions. Not a lot of pace, or youth for that matter.

Valencia was on the sidelines for much of the season, leaving the other four to contend for places in the squad. Young was often criticised, as way Shaw. Dalot was too inexperienced, but gave his all and Darmian seldom played. This season though, after the departure of Valencia, Wan-Bissaka arrived and has improved the position greatly.

Both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw will face competition from Young and Dalot, who can both play on the left or the right. Darmian may still play a part despite his future up in the air, although his current contract will expire at the end of the season. The fullback role is looking good for the current season with youth coming through the ranks to add more competition.

Central defensive depth; the strongest defence in six years?

Solskjaer has Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe in his ranks for the current season. There was the rumour of Rojo likely to depart before the closure of the European transfer window at the start of September, but it is just rumour right now. With seven players, there is some depth in this area.

Bailly is injured until the Christmas period, meaning Solskjaer has six players contesting two positions in the squad. Lindelof and Maguire secured the central defensive area in the 4-0 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford last weekend and will be expected to resume their positions against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

In case of injury to either Lindelof or Maguire, or the need for rotation, Tuanzebe will be a great option for Solskjaer as he did well during pre-season and learned some valuable things on loan with Aston Villa last season. The likes of Jones and Smalling could also be considered. Rojo not so much, based on pre-season appearances.

The depth of this squad is pretty good, despite the moaning for central midfield signings during the summer transfer window. Solskjaer will have had targets and if it was not possible to sign them, panic buying was just going to create more problems in the future with many players on high wages and unable to be moved on; Alexis Sanchez for instance.

United have many options in different areas; a minimum of three players, counting those already in the first team this season, which are players who have already made their debuts for the club in the recent years. In some positions, United has four sometimes five options, based on my opinion on where they would be able to play in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

This is the formation which Solskjaer has used more often than not, and a formation which will get the best out of the attacking players, using their hunger, determination and more importantly, their pace to launch attacking and counter-attacking plays during matches. Solskjaer’s identity seems to be young, courage and success.

Above, you can see the 4-2-3-1 formation, keeping an eye on the defence where there is a minimum of three players for each position, listed in order of importance to the squad. At fullback, both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw seem to be safe, although the emergence of Dalot could change that, more for Shaw, if he does not improve as he should have.

In the centre of defence, Lindelof and Maguire are certain to start more matches together, fitness and injury aside, but in that instance, there is some depth which could help get United through a difficult time. Tuanzebe, at least for me, is trusted more than the likes of Jones and Smalling; Bailly is at the bottom because of injury at the present time.

If the Ivorian improves his game, he could add more competition for either centre-back, which in turn will inspire players to perform to the best of their ability in order to keep their place. Competition is the best thing to bring the best out of players. This defence could achieve a lot; first of all to ensure they concede fewer than 54 goals this season.

copyright: JW