They were surplus to requirements. There were not many Manchester United fans who shed a tear when Romelu Lukaku and Matteo Darmian were sold to Italian sides Inter Milan and Parma, respectively, and when Chris Smalling was sent on a season-long loan to Roma over the summer.
Few would have imagined that just four months later, the three cast-offs would have become three of the top performing players in Serie A.
Lukaku’s success raises the fewest eyebrows. His powerful physique is ideally suited to the demands of the Italian game and at 26, he is still in the peak years of his career. Nonetheless, he has over-achieved so far in Italy; his haul of ten goals in 16 games has helped lift the Nerazzurri to first place in Serie A and he is second only to Lazio’s Ciro Immobile – and one ahead of Christiano Ronaldo – in the race for the Capocannoniere – Serie A’s equivalent of the Golden Boot.
Thirty-year-old Smalling’s performances for Roma have been equally impressive and have led to the Italian club seeking to make the move permanent, with offers in excess of €12 million already having been submitted to Old Trafford, according to reports. It is a triumphant resurrection of the Englishman’s career, with the likes of Arsenal also joining the race for his signature.
But the most unlikely of the three stars to shine in the Bel Paese is the much maligned Matteo Darmian. The 30-year-old’s performances at Parma since his return to his home country have impressed big guns Inter Milan to such an extent that they are reported to be plotting a raid for the defender in the January transfer window, just 6 months into his Parma career.
Non solo Darmian e Kulusevski nel mirino dell’Inter: spunta l’ipotesi Kucka: Nelle ultime settimane più e più volte Dejan Kulusevski e Matteo Darmian sono stati avvicinati all’Inter, ma a meno di clamorosi colpi di scena i due dovrebbero rimanere in… https://t.co/qwIMfLjUep pic.twitter.com/tWWrnuYRYz
— ParmaLive (@ParmaLiveTweet) November 22, 2019
What are we to make of the instant success of these United flops in Italy? Is the standard of Serie A that much lower than that of the Premier League? Or were they mismanaged, misused or misunderstood at Old Trafford?
One thing is certain: all three are living la dolce vita and it would not be a complete surprise to see either Smalling or Darmian – or even both – earning a recall to their national sides and joining Lukaku in the Euro 2020 finals.