Manchester United are edging ever closer to signing Matteo Darmian from Torino. The 25 year old appears to have already bid goodbye to I Granata and while club president Urbano Cairo insisted on Thursday there is "nothing official yet", the player is expected to undergo a medical in Manchester on Friday, according to Sky Sports.
Should he make the move, he will join the tiny fraternity of Italians currently plying their trade in the Premier League. During the 2014-15 season, there was a mere six registered by EPL teams, a far cry from the 31 Spaniards and 38 Frenchman competing across the English top flight.
The days of Italians nonchalantly swapping Juventus and Inter Milan for Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday (see Attilio Lombardo and Benito Carbone for those particular success stories) are over. Signings from Serie A are still met with some caution. After all, for every Gianfranco Zola, there was an Andrea Silenzi. For every Fabrizio Ravanelli, there was a Marco Materazzi. For every Paolo di Canio, an Alberto Aquilani.
Manchester United have traditionally opted to not bother at all, with just six Italians having played at any level for the club. Carlo Sartori was the first. Sartori was one of the first non-British or Irish players to work their way through United's revered youth ranks in the 60s after his parents emigrated from Caderzone to Manchester after the Second World War. The rigours of the top flight game ensured his introduction to the first team was a slow one, although that adjustment period was not without its highlights, in particular a hat-trick for the club's reserve team in a 9-0 thrashing of Manchester City in 1964.
The season after United's 1968 European success, Santori was entrusted with a starting eleven role for the first time, stepping in for his debut full start to replace the injured George Best against Liverpool. The Italian stayed in and around the first team, but after half a season on the sidelines under new manager Frank O'Farrell in 1971 he began to consider opportunities elsewhere, returning to Italy to sign for Bologna in 1973.
Massimo Taibi was the next to wear the shirt, one of the many hapless goalkeepers hauled into the club by Sir Alex Ferguson in his attempts to find a replacement for Peter Schmeichel. United paid a fee of £4.4m in 1999 for his services after both Mark Bosnich and Raimond van der Gouw were stricken with injury. He was immediately thrown in the deep end for a Premier League clash with Liverpool. Some hopeless flapping at a free kick from which Sami Hyypia scored ensured a terrible start, but some excellent saves saw him redeem himself as United clung on to a 3-2 win – with the Italian claiming the man of the match award in the process.
Things turned a bit sour after that. After a so-so performance in goal against Wimbledon, Taibi was then at the centre of perhaps the most notorious goalkeeping error of the Premier League era, letting Matthew Le Tissier's tame shot trickle through his legs. After conceding five to Chelsea a week later enough was enough; he never played for United again.
With Taibi at one end of the scale, Giuseppe Rossi was firmly at the other. The New Jersey-born striker netted 13 goals in his first 19 starts for the reserve side after arriving as a 17 year old. In 2005, he made his Premier League debut after replacing Ruud van Nistelrooy towards the end of a game with his side leading Sunderland 2-1. Eight minutes later opened his senior account with a well-placed finish from the edge of the box.
Rossi wasted the first half of the next season on loan at Newcastle United when then-manager Glenn Roeder seemingly forgot he was there., But a spell at Parma where he struck nine times in 19 games enhanced his reputation once again. Despite signing a long-term deal at Old Trafford in 2005, Rossi was off in the summer of 2007, reuniting with former United misfit Diego Forlan to wreak havoc on La Liga defences for Villarreal. While a string of knee injuries dating back to January last year are worrying, he has been a potent goal scorer wherever he has been.
Rodrigo Possebon gets into this exclusive club on a technicality. The Brazilian-born midfielder held an Italian passport when he made his move to United and made a sole appearance for the Azzurri's Under-20 ranks during his time there. Arriving from Internacional, no one knew much about him, but the 19 year old looked at home in United's midfield when handed his Premier League debut in a cameo at the start of the 2008/09 season. But a horror tackle from Middlesbrough's Emmanuel Pogatez in a League Cup third round clash stopped that. While he was lucky to escape a broken leg, all Possebon's momentum was gone. He left to return to Brazil in 2010.
Roma were left rather miffed when, in 2008, 16-year-old Davide Petrucci, the jewel of their youth team and Italy's Under-17 ranks, signed a contract with United. As so often is the case, however, the midfielder was hampered by injury and failed to find any rhythm during loans spells away from the club. Now 23, he currently plies his trade for CFR Cluj in Romania after being released last summer.
The introduction Federico Macheda made as a United player needs little explanation. A last-minute winner against Aston Villa in 2009 – a goal that arguably sparked life back into their title run that season – was as good as it got. The former Lazio youth scored just three more times for the club – the second of which came a week after his sumptuous effort against Villa – and after disappointing loan spells at Sampdoria, Queens Park Rangers, Stuttgart, Doncaster and Birmingham, he cut ties with the club last summer. He is now forging a decent career for himself in the Championship with Cardiff.