Former Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian believes his current Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte is a better manager than Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal.
Darmian, 31, spent four years at Old Trafford between 2015 and 2019, during which time the Italian failed to cement a consistent starting berth and largely played a peripheral role in the squad, first under Van Gaal, and later Mourinho.
The Milanese defender returned to his homeland in 2019, first joining Parma on a permanent basis, and then relocating to the San Siro on loan for the 2020/21 season, where he is now closing in on Serie A title success with Inter Milan.
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Under Conte, the Nerazzurri have been in stellar form and look destined to end their 11-year wait for scudetto glory, with the Milan giants currently 11 points clear at the summit with just five games remaining.
Darmian, for his part, has been in and out of the side, starting just 11 league games, but in that time he has played a vital role, slotting in where necessity dictates, either at left-back, right-back, or even centre-back this season, while he recently netted a late winner against Cagliari to send the Inter bench into raptures.
If Inter stay true to the form book then they will usurp perennial champions Juventus and enjoy a historic season. Such title-winning form has sparked heavy praise in Conte’s direction, and one of his biggest advocates, Darmian, has placed him ahead of Mourinho and Van Gaal in the managerial pecking order.
Darmian, who also worked under Conte at international level for Italy, told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “It was as if I had never left him.
“He’s fierce and has the same desire as then, to bring the team to the top. He has improved tactically and as a character.
“[Van Gaal] was a freak of the rules. He was the one who wanted me at United. One of the first days in Manchester he took me aside and said: ‘You are here thanks to me. You have my confidence, you will fight with [Antonio] Valencia, know that for me the name doesn’t matter’.
“[Mourinho] has no other loves than to win. I owe him trophies, even a Europa League.
“But Conte has great ideas, tactically, he’s a step ahead.”
Van Gaal: I missed out on TEN transfer targets at Man Utd
On the subject of Van Gaa’s stint at Old Trafford, the Dutch tactician recently revealed in an interview with FourFourTwo that he was in the market for a number of high-profile stars to bolster his squad and get Man Utd back on track to challenging for the Premier League.
Among those in Van Gaal’s cross hairs according to the man himself were the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Neymar and Sergio Ramos, but the board refused to back his ambition, and he instead ended up with a handful of less-illustrious names, including Darmian.
“I wanted Lewandowski, but when this proved difficult I tried to get Gonzalo Higuain instead,” he said.
“Before I had arrived, I also spoke with the board about Neymar. If you are at United, you have to think big. He was also interesting for the club in terms of selling shirts, and I wanted to have quick wingers. For that reason, I also tried to get Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez.
“Thomas Muller was on my wish list, too, and in central midfield I wanted N’Golo Kante. I even tried to sign James Milner, who was already quite old but very multi-functional and possessed leadership skills.
“For the defence, I wanted Ramos and Mats Hummels, because ours wasn’t the strongest in building from the back.
“Those were my top targets, but we couldn’t get any of them. I don’t know why, because as the manager I wasn’t involved in any negotiations.
After I left, players like Mahrez and Kante ended up at Manchester City and Chelsea, while United couldn’t get them. I found that very odd.”