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Gianluigi Donnarumma: Boy Wonder


What were you doing at 16 years old? For most people, it certainly wasn’t starting in goal for a big club in Serie A. For most goalkeepers who end up in Serie A, even they were only dreaming of playing for a big club at that age. But Gigio Donnarumma has not only realized that dream, he is also making fans worldwide dream big, too. And it’s not just because of his 6’5”(1.96m) frame, either. It’s because he has “it”… that special combination of astonishing skills, calm demeanor, and maturity well beyond his years that makes a strong case for an amazing career ahead of him. Perhaps it is wrong to put such pressure on his big young shoulders, but out of all of the young keepers we’ve seen break into Serie A before age 20, he truly seems to be a legitimate boy wonder.

The boy who plays alongside men

What is it exactly that sets Gigio apart? Obviously, his size is one reason. To be 6’5” at 16 years old with the possibility of still growing makes him a very exciting keeping prospect. Watching him line up next to his teammates, some of whom are literally twice his age, and he is a full head taller than them, but knowing his career is just barely starting is pretty awesome. But it’s not just his massive frame, it’s how he uses it. He moves like someone much shorter than him, and has reflexes that are better than keepers twice his age, too. He has amazing positioning, and has no problems keeping the backline in line, either, even veterans like Alex and Mexes. He’s basically already got everything you want in a keeper except for experience.

For a keeper to have his feet firmly planted on the ground is typically looked at as a negative, but we already know he can move very, very quickly. It’s his maturity and calmness that have his feet metaphorically planted on the ground that is so exciting. Rarely do you see such a young player with so much poise, confidence, but also humility. And it shows. He stopped a Toni Kroos penalty this summer as well as two others after having been thrown into the middle of a tough match. Then he missed a penalty kick, something you could chalk up to inexperience. But he was neither over confident by the saves nor too devastated by the missed kick. Just determined to do better and humbly learn from his much older teammates and coaches.

He's already faced a number of penalties, and shown his worth every time

His fellow goalkeeping brother, Antonio, also came through Milan’s youth system, and then was sold to Genoa. At 25 years old, he most recently spent last season on loan at Bari, and is currently the third choice keeper again at Genoa, having only made one appearance for the club in the four years they’ve owned him. Clearly, for once, Milan have kept the right Donnarumma. Let’s just hope they hold onto him, especially since he has always supported Milan.

Meanwhile, at Milan, Gigio has kept two clean sheets in four matches for Milan, something Diego Lopez has not been able to do in the other eight matches this season. And while the gelling of the team and the switching of systems may have contributed to the rare clean sheets, Donarumma’s skills cannot be denied. I know that as a big fan of goalkeepers, I have always liked mine the older the better for experience, but Donnarumma has proven himself more than worthy of earning that experience now, at 16 years old. Boy Wonder.

His amazing skills are matched by amazing character and coolness under pressure

There is a lot of concern about ruining him or burning him out, which is all too common, especially with goalkeepers. Mattia Perin already has more DUIs than trophies, even if he is starting for Genoa. Look at other promising young keepers labeled as “the next Buffon,” such as Simone Scuffet and Nicola Leali. Scuffet is on loan to Serie B side Como, and Leali is on loan to Frosinone and is not their starting keeper at age 22. Meanwhile, Donnarumma is starting for Milan, and was also just called up for the Italy U21 team, too. People always hail young keepers as “the next Buffon,” and the media have already more than done their job with Donnarumma in that regard. But what if he’s not the next Buffon? What if he’s the next gold standard himself? The next Donnarumma? He’s bigger than Buffon, and got his Serie A start a year younger than Buffon. Why put a limit on his talent?

It is obviously way too early to say that he will or even that he could. But it is exciting to be able to watch him start his Serie A career all the same. And it’s been so long since Milan had such an exciting goalkeeper, especially one who came through the Milan youth system. Filippo Galli, head of Milan’s youth system said, “A youth system produces one goalkeeper in a million like Donnarumma.” So let’s just enjoy his development. He had the good fortune to come into the first team thanks to a coach who looks at talent instead of your birth certificate, and we now have the good fortune to watch his talent grow as he is virtually guaranteed to start while Diego Lopez is taking care of his knee injury. The same Diego Lopez who said of his young teammate that Donnarumma seems 10 years older than he is and that he’s incredible. But while we enjoy his amazing skills, we also need to remember that he is still just a boy, even if he is a Boy Wonder.


This post inspired by the music of Lush


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