Hassan Chamas

When Italy national team captain Fabio Cannavaro counselled Internazionale starlets Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli on joining other teams – such as Juventus – should they want to preserve their World Cup hopes, the entire Serie A world erupted between advocates of the Azzurri skipper and harsh opponents, exploiting the event to sparkle yet another Juve-Inter debate across the country.

Cannavaro’s status as a World Cup winner and Italian legend means his concerns for the Inter duo deserve to be heard. Is it simply that the Napoli-native, the senior leader of the pack, wants the best for his flock before ultimately throwing in the towel? It could be. But why did the former Real Madrid man recommend Juventus as a possible terminus for the Inter wonder kids? Why did he stress predominantly on Santon? Did he have in the back of his mind the full-back frailties that his beloved Bianconeri have?

Needless to say, Inter manager Jose Mourinho wasn’t in line to be bullied over his 2008/09 revelation, and the fact that he already had half of Italy on his back didn’t make him blink twice, as he became engulfed in a war-of-words against Cannavaro, national team coach Marcello Lippi, and the rest of Juventus family. After all, Davide Santon was the only encouraging note of the disappointing double-clash against Manchester United last season.

So why is it that the man hailed by Lippi and the rest of the Calcio world as the “new Paolo Maldini”, was finding playing time hard to manage? That said; should he seek new pastures in order to guarantee his presence in South Africa this summer?

World Cup Dream

It’s no hidden secret that Davide Santon is arguably the most complete teenage full-back in the world. The Nerazzuri youngster made a name for himself dealing effectively with Cristiano Ronaldo in the last 16 stage of the Champions League last season, and even though Inter Milan waved goodbye to the competition, Santon’s discovery was seen as a positive for the Italian champions. He subsequently continued the season as the team’s left-back, although he is right-sided by nature.

However, the arrival of Brazil captain Lucio at Inter was the commencement of trouble for Portomaggiore’s own, where the former Bayern Munich man knocked Christian Chivu out of central defence all the way to the left, effectively consigning Santon to bench warming duty. With a back four comprising Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel and Chivu, the Beneamata have been an impenetrable bastion this season, shielding teams such as Barcelona and AC Milan. Their heart-breaking solidity at the back made it hard for Mourinho not to adopt this quartet on a regular basis.

That appears to be great news for Inter, who seem to be steamrollering towards another Scudetto, despite the hiccup against Juventus – one particular Swede not included. But this hardly does Santon any favours, as the 18-year old tries desperately to persuade Marcello Lippi that his company would be most lovely on that trip to South Africa.

No, this situation doesn’t seem to fit Santon at all. Most of the 23 seats to South Africa are already booked according to Lippi, and those still lingering will be a last-minute call, all while “The Special One” is not letting his diamond shine. So is a loan move the best situation for the player?

Reports did surface in November that suggested Santon had instructed his agents that he was prepared to abandon the Giuseppe Meazza should any team come knocking for his services. This despite his agents declaring time and time again that the right-back was staying put at the San Siro. The Italian press nonetheless have continued to link him with the likes of Parma, Napoli, and Genoa.

While this benign courtship between these clubs and Santon could probably be – and surely is – nothing more than just the effect of some people trying to sell a few papers, the veracity remains that Santon is likely to find himself defending other colours by January, even for a short period of time. His recent side-lining through injury would seem to have only increased this option, especially as Mourinho has his dream defensive formation this season, and the odds of him breaking it in Santon’s favour are about as high as those involving Marcello Lippi having an epiphany over the international fate of Antonio Cassano.

Should Santon decide to leave Milan, he would find more than a handful of Italian teams standing in line for his signature. A loan spell away from home could be just what Inter’s number 39 needs to mature and return to the Beneamata a more complete player.

Burned Light

While there’s nothing blasphemous with Santon being farmed elsewhere should his Inter career fail to launch the way he wants to, what is really shocking here is the rhythm at which the youngster wants to mature as a footballer.

Ever since Santon showcased himself at the beginning of 2009, it was the easiness at which he was able to neutralise Cristiano Ronaldo’s wheels that turned him into Italy’s hottest sensation, and as such, his stock kept on growing, eventually earning him a place in the Nazionale senior squad that disputed last summer’s Confederations Cup. His cause gained even further attention as the Italian media called for his straight first-team installation, in the place of ageing warriors Massimo Oddo and Gianluca Zambrotta.

But what Santon and the rest of the world seem to overlook is that he is still an 18-year-old. He should still be playing under Pierluigi Casiraghi’s in the Under-21 side, a side that he should ordinarily continue to represent for the next three years. Wouldn’t he be hurdling through his professional career a bit quickly this way?

Davide Santon has still some way to go before he can be considered a senior, both technically and mentally. All the tittle-tattle of tantrums and training ground outbursts are after all, signs of immaturity. Inter director Gabriele Oriali so accurately described Santon and Balotelli when he said that "they are just going through a moment of personal development on a professional and human level".

Should Santon’s blindness with stardom take on another level of myopia, the player might be faced with the likelihood of a premature peak: One should just see the hardship endured by Brazilian Ronaldo, Michael Owen, and Antonio Cassano. And even though Jose Mourinho won’t be playing Mary Poppins anytime soon, his tutelage nonetheless will prove dear for Santon: Mourinho has a habit of bringing out the best out in his players. Just ask Mario Balotelli.   

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Photo Courtesy: luigiinter