In 2010, Davide Santon was voted one of the best young players in the world.
These lists are subjective, of course, but the 19-year-old Inter Milan defender looked to have it all. Pace, skill, energy and a clever football brain.
Jose Mourinho played him in a Champions League match at Old Trafford when he was up against Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured below), no less. It was one of his very first senior matches.
“I was impressed by Santon, he is a really interesting lad and a great footballer,” was the assessment of the Portuguese superstar.
So far, so wonderful. Newcastle United did well to sign Santon in 2011 and for the first 18 months of his time on Tyneside, the right-footed left-back was superb.
He had this weird trick of controlling a ball, then passing it to someone wearing the same colour of strip.
Even in his second season when the team struggled in the league, Santon was more than good until injury kicked in. But for the last 18 months, Santon has struggled on either side of the defence and when played in midfield. There is naturally much talk about who is coming in at St James’ Park, but as big a job as that is, of equal important for Alan Pardew is how to get the best out of the players already at the club.
Santon is surely a concern and a priority. If the manager can help the Italian back to where he was, Newcastle have themselves a genuine top-class defender.
But if the next season begins with the now 23-year-old looking afraid to take the ball and make a pass, something which happened in the last campaign, then it might be time to move him on.
This is something Santon hinted at yesterday.
He claimed both Roma and AC Milan had expressed an interest in him recently. That does sound like tapping up, but that’s for another day.
During an interview in Italy with Sky, Santon decided to pour doubt on his Newcastle future, while at the same time making sure everyone knows he loves living here. His partner, a local girl, had a baby last year so he is settled.
But why mention the fact, if it is that, that other clubs are sniffing about when he has no notion of leaving?
Unless the player himself realises that it may be better to try out pastures new.
Santon said: “There has been interest from Roma and AC Milan but I have two years left on my contract at Newcastle and I don’t know if they will let me go.
“I must say that I feel good at Newcastle as they have made me feel at home and I like the English League.
“Roma and Milan are two major teams, Roma have been shown to have a strong team who’ll be able to fight for the Scudetto next season. AC Milan had some problems this year and have changed coaches, so things haven’t been very stable.”
It would be best for Newcastle if Pardew could put some life back into one of his most naturally gifted players. Massadio Haidara and Paul Dummett are both decent left-backs, but neither have come close to being praised by the best player on the planet.
While our attention for the most part is concentrated on potential signings, the rebirth of Davide Santon’s Newcastle career is vital for the team to move forward.
But when a footballer without prompting admits that other clubs want him, it usually only means one thing – and that is that’s he’s off.