Matteo Darmian is only the fifth Italian to play for United. He’s fitted straight in with the team and we caught up with him for a chat at the AON Training Complex…
RR: How are you adjusting to life in Manchester?
I’m settling in well. At the beginning it wasn’t easy because of course it is a different culture here, different language, different ways and customs than those in Italy. But, as the days go by I am getting used to it all, thanks to my teammates who from the start have made me feel part of the group and I think this is the most important thing. I’m also slowly getting to know the city, so at the moment it’s good, I like it and I hope it carries on this way. The weather is very different to Italy but I have to say that for training it’s better like this rather than training in the heat.
RR: You seem to fit straight into the team. Was it difficult to adjust to United’s style of play?
To be honest no, like I said earlier, thanks to my teammates they have given me a hand right from the first day, and the staff have too. It’s normal that there will be differences compared to Italian football… here the football is more physical, with a higher pace, but I think we train for this… we are here for that reason.
RR: Have you always played as a defender?
I have almost always played as a defender. Only when I first started playing for my hometown team did I play as a midfielder. But then when I moved to AC Milan’s youth team they immediately moved me to the back, in defence and from then on I have always been a defender. First as a centre back and then when I started playing in the first team I moved to the right as a full-back, since then I have always been a full-back. I’ve sometimes played centre-back but only through necessity for the team, but I think my role is right-back and if needed I could play left-back too like I did in previous seasons with Torino. My hometown team was a little team called Carcor, the local church’s team… I think it was important for me because it was a way of being with my friends, of playing football and doing what I liked in a very carefree way.
RR: Who were your footballing heroes growing up?
As a defender and playing in the youth team for AC Milan my idols were always Maldini and Nesta. I think they are two great defenders that have written their names into the history not just of Italian football but of world football.
RR: You made your Serie A debut at 17 with Milan. What was it like to train and play with Inzaghi, Maldini and Seedorf at such a young age?
Being able to play for Milan at such a young age in a team that was made up of such champions was thrilling, and a reason to be proud. It was another reason to improve day after day and I tried to observe them as much as possible and understand what they did both on and off the pitch. I was very lucky. Despite being such great players and champions, Maldini and Nesta were also great people. For a young boy, playing in the first team can be daunting, a bit scary but they would say important words to me and give me support that made me feel confident.
RR: Did you enjoy the US tour and what were the highlights?
Yes it was a great experience. For me it was the first time going on tour and there were lots of great moments, from my first game with United which for me was really exciting, to playing against Barcelona for the first time and facing a team of such a high standard. So it was a very positive experience. We had a few free days and made the most of them. One day we went to Seattle and in San Jose we went to visit the Google offices which was interesting.
RR: United have lots of fans in the US, what’s it like being on tour with the club?
It was very different to what I’m used to, I knew that United had fans all over the world but it made me realise just how many they have, everywhere, and this was great. And when we go out on the pitch it makes us try our best for them, too.
RR: Do you look at it as a holiday, a competition or a bit of both?
I didn’t see it as a holiday, the days on tour were needed for us to train… on a physical level and to prepare well for the start of the season. There were days where we worked very hard on all levels, athletic, technical, tactical — to make sure we were ready for the start of the season.
RR: United are back in Europe this season — how do the lads feel about that?
The two games against Brugge weren’t easy ones — we all anticipated qualification but it wasn’t easy. It’s normal, for the club’s history, for its prestige, that United should be back in such an important competition. And now that we are in it we’ll obviously do our best.
RR: Finishing in the top four is a great achievement, but how much expectation and pressure is on the squad to improve on last season?
There is pressure on United. When the season starts the objectives are always the best ones possible, in the sense that each year the team is built to fight on all fronts and to try and win trophies, and yes I think around the big teams there is always pressure. We try to not feel it, to take each game at a time and do our best.
RR: What is it about the Premier League that’s so exciting?
Seeing all the stadiums full, the atmosphere around a game, I think it’s priceless. Unfortunately in Italy it isn’t like that. People here go to the stadium to enjoy themselves like they were going to the theatre, to enjoy the show. The culture is much better than in Italy. Here everyone waits for the weekend to go and watch the game and once it’s over they don’t go on and on talking about it, there are no big debates. Whereas in Italy if, for example, if a referee makes a mistake they will carry on talking about it for a week. And, of course, it’s one of the biggest and best leagues in the world.
RR: Did you always want to be a footballer or did you want to be anything else when you were a kid — like a fireman or a doctor etc?
Obviously my passion has always been football. As a child I was always playing football with my friends and my hope was that of becoming a footballer. But as I was growing up my parents taught and educated me in the best way possible to make me understand that not everyone makes it to play at such high levels so they made sure, that alongside my football, I also went ahead with my studies. I got my diploma (graduated) at the right time but my passion was always football. I never thought if I didn’t achieve this dream I want to be something else, I knew I would just keep trying to be a footballer and then see.
RR: What’s the best moment of your professional career so far?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one moment. There is my debut with AC Milan, the promotion with Torino, the first time playing in the national team, playing in the World Cup, last year scoring the qualifying goal against Atletico Bilbao or a goal in a derby, they are all great moments. Playing my first game with United was a big emotion too. My first game in the Champions League a few weeks ago and my first Premier League game! There are many moments and I hope they continue.
RR: If you could relive any moments or specific periods of time from your career, even as a child, what would they be?
All the moments I just mentioned — I would re-live them all.
RR: Do you keep memorabilia and, if so, what are your favourites?
I like keeping shirts, mainly those of my friends/ex-teammates. If I play against them I like to swap shirts with them. Also because I think that it isn’t easy to find true friends in football. It’s normal to spend time with teammates and hang out with certain people but to find true friends that you keep in touch with and still see (when not in the same team) is a really positive thing. But yes, I have lots of shirts. I’ve got one of Maldini’s from his last season before retiring, I have one of Beckham’s when he played for six months with AC Milan, I was lucky to play with him too. I also have one of Ronaldinho’s. They are all important shirts!
RR: Do you have any football superstitions or rituals you follow?
No I’m not very superstitious. I think there are a lot of footballers who are, that maybe do the same thing every time before a game, but I don’t.