If reports are true that young Inter and Italy back Davide Santon is headed for Newcastle - and it's being reported all over including reliable Italian press sources - the Toon would be getting one of the few 20-year-old continentals for whom the Premier League might come as a relief.
In February 2009, the then 18-year-old Santon did a creditable job marking Cristiano Ronaldo in a scoreless Champions League draw against Manchester United, eliciting praise from Ronaldo in post-match interviews. Shortly thereafter, in a death kiss worthy of a Mafia movie, Santon was compared by former Italy national coach Marcello Lippi to the player many consider to be the greatest defender in the country's history, Paolo Maldini. Fans across defense-minded Italy began hailing this mini-Maldini as a coming national savior. In summer of 2009, while young luminaries such as Marco Motta and Domenico Criscito were playing in the U-21 European squad, Santon became a full international for Italy at the Confederations Cup, albeit on the bench.
That fall, in a U-21 match against Luxembourg, Santon tore the lateral meniscus cartilage in his right knee - not a devastating injury, as knee injuries go, but one that can be painful and maddeningly slow to heal. He underwent a successful 45-minute arthroscope, but by the time his road back was complete, he was rusty as could be expected - except by Italy's persnickety fans, who were all too ready to brand anything less than Maldini-level development as disappointment. Unable to get sufficient playing time at Inter to regain match fitness, he was loaned this past January to the fringe Serie A club Cesena, where his performance had its ups and downs, including a much-talked-about 2-0 loss to a powerful Napoli team during which his errors resulted in both goals. Cesena escaped the drop by seven points, finishing 15th.
There's still no place for Santon to play regularly at Inter, and having reportedly clashed last season with manager Rafael Benitez before the banishment to Cesena, the club is ready to cash him out. According to Italy's solid Gazzetta dello Sport, a number of clubs are interested, including Roma, Dynamo Kiev, and Lyon, which as noted here last week allegedly fancies him as a potential replacement as they shop left back Aly Cissokho. But Gazzetta reports Newcastle has the inside track, because the other clubs, given the fitness questions, are interested only in a rent-to-own deal, not a straight buy.
As has become a refrain this summer, Santon would be a risk - it appears Newcastle just isn't willing to shell out the fee required for sought-after players who are unquestionably fit. Another question is Santon's position. Perhaps his best quality is his versatility, born of his oft-remarked calmness and maturity on the pitch; he has been deployed all across the back line and on the wing at midfield. But his most natural position, by his own admission, is right back, where he doesn't have to turn to cross - Inter has wanted him on the right, where he's being blocked by Douglas Maicon. He could be a managing challenge to boot. He's brash and a noted self-promoter - perhaps understandable given so many plaudits so young.
This much is certain, however - he'd be a vast improvement over the current left back on Newcastle's XI, i.e., none. And if his knee holds up as the rust shakes off the rest of him, this young Italian, freed from the harsh microscope of his country, could look awfully stylish on the club of continental sophistication Alan Pardew has begun to reveal in this new season.