Darmian: How I turned pro
Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian was just 17 years old when he made his first-team debut for AC Milan. In this recent interview, the full-back spoke to us about his journey from playing youth football in Italy to becoming a professional footballer….
“I remember I started playing football when I was six in my hometown. Like every kid who starts playing I think my dream was to play at the highest level.”
Do you remember your first local team?
“Yes, they were called Carcor and I have good memories of playing for them. We were a good team and we are all still good friends. I’m still in touch with everyone. It was a good group, with good players.”
Were you the best player in that team, and where did you play?
“Yeah, probably. I started playing as a midfielder and then I moved back into defence.”
“My father was the coach, with another guy helping him.”
What was it like having your dad as coach?
“It was good. Then of course, he continued to train all my friends when I moved to the AC Milan Academy and I have great memories of that team.”
Tell us about when you signed for AC Milan as a youngster…
“I was 10 or 11 and it was very exciting to think I was now playing for a big club. At that moment Milan were probably one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great first team. So, for me, it was a big honour and I was proud.”
Was your first day at the Milan Academy a nerve-wracking one for you?
“No, when you are young, you play just to enjoy yourself and without pressure. That first training session went well and at the end [of my time in the Academy] I became an AC Milan [first-team] player.”
“I made a lot of sacrifices. At that age, I think school is the most important thing and you have to continue studying in a good way because, of course, [making it in] football is not easy. There was also sacrifice for my family because they had to take me everywhere, but now they are happy for me.”
Were there long journeys involved in getting to the Milan Academy?
“When I was playing for AC Milan they had a mini coach which picked me up close to my house. Training started at 3 o’clock, so as soon as I finished school, my grandad took me to the the place where the coach picked me up. I had no time to eat so I often ate just sandwiches to be on time. Then when you get back at night it can be late and you have to eat again and study. It’s not easy when you are a kid but when it is your dream you do everything with a smile and try to find energy everywhere.”
How old were you when professional football became a reality?
“Like I said before, when you are a kid you play without pressure, but your dream is still there. When it became a reality I was like 17 and I started to train with the first team and I realised football was probably my life.”
“I have to give credit to all my coaches because every one of them gave me something. Some helped with my mentality, others with my technical development or tactics. I cannot mention just one, I have to thank every one of them.”
What was the moment like when you signed a professional contract? Was it a proud day?
“Yeah, of course. That’s maybe the day I realised that football can be my life and I was proud, not just for me, but for my family and all the sacrifices we made. Of course it wasn’t finished there and I still make sacrifices today - it’s the key to keep improving.“
What are your memories of your first AC Milan senior match and how did it go for you?
“Personally, for me it was a great day because it was my debut. It was so different for me because playing for the Academy is completely different to playing for the first team. It’s a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The game was not great in terms of the result because we lost 3-2 at home.”
Is it a life-changing event, because suddenly you become famous?
“Yes, but I just try to be myself in every moment of my career. Of course people recognise you more but for me nothing changed.”
Looking back now, would you change anything in your journey to becoming a professional player?
“No, I have no regrets because in that period I was part of the AC Milan Academy and in that period I grew up as a player, but also as a man.”