What were you doing at 16 years old? Probably trying to salvage your grade in pre calculus, or perhaps trying to muster up the courage to talk to a high school crush? (Let’s face it, we’ve all be there in some way, shape or form). However, that is not the case for Gianluigi Donnarumma who, barely midway through his teenage years, is the starting goalkeeper for a world class football club in AC Milan.
With a massive amount of success and praise in his debut campaign, now would be the time to raise the question: Should Italy manager Antonio Conte bring the teenage shot-stopper to France this summer for the Euro 2016?
Donnarumma, born in the southern Italian comune of Castellammare di Stabia – province of Naples – signed a professional contract last year with the rossoneri after shining under Primavera manager Cristian Brocchi. This past summer, newly appointed boss Siniša Mihajlović became impressed with the play of his young keeper, so much that he called him up as the third keeper behind Diego Lopez and Christian Abbiati. The talent was legitimate, and the future was certainly to be bright, but it appeared that his time would come in the near future rather than in the 2015-16 season, or so we thought.
After a bit of a shaky start out of the gate for Milan, Mihajlović made the bold decision to replace his 34-year old veteran keeper in Diego Lopez and give the kid a chance to make the starting number one position his own. Donnarumma got his first start on matchday 9 at the San Siro against Sassuolo. With a 2-1 win, the debutant proved that Mihajlović made the correct decision in shaking things up in the side, to give a new look – and hope – to the Italian giants.
Since his debut in October, the teenage sensation hasn’t looked back, becoming one of the best keepers in all of Italy. (At 16…yes, I’m still moved by this.) Below, using the Squawka Comparison Matrix, you can see how Donnarumma stacks up with the best of the best Italian football has to offer:
In 16 Serie A matches, the astoundingly tall Italian goalie is right there with the best at his position, conceding just 12 goals, good for a rate of 0.75 goals/match. Although he’s played in less matches, Donnarumma is right there with Buffon (0.60/match), Jose Reina (0.79/match), Perin (1.23/match) and Handanovic (0.83/match), while having a less-than consistent defensive unit covering him.
Gianluigi Donnarumma has been incredible this entire season and has helped Milan claw their way into contention for European qualification. With few Italian keepers excelling this year, should Conte bring Donnarumma to France this summer for Euro 2016? First, let’s establish something. How many Italian keepers currently playing in Europe’s top five league’s are outperforming Donnarumma?
Of course, Juventus’ aging -but still world class – leader Gianluigi Buffon is clear cut the primary option for Conte. There is no disputing that. Then, the options to choose from spark more of a debate. Initially, it seemed as if Paris Saint-Germain’s Salvatore Sirigu was the ideal backup to the longtime bianconeri captain, but due to the fact that Kevin Trapp has overthrown him this year despite being far from world class under Laurent Blanc, it makes you question as to whether he is still the leading candidate for the job. Also, he’s only featured in one match. Then there is Mattia Perin (shown in the matrix above) who has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise poor Genoa side this season. At 23, you assume Conte would take him to France, though the final two spots are really up for grabs and may be earned in the remaining months of the season. Marco Sportiello is also a favored option by supporters of the azzurri, having been solid all season (eight clean sheets to his credit) despite playing for an underwhelming Atalanta side.
When making a case for Donnarumma’s inclusion, you really have to explore it from all avenues.
First, his performance this season as a 16-year old playing for a top flight Italian club has been as impressive a story as we’ve seen all year in European football. Second, his attitude, professionalism and confidence playing in goal looks more like that of a veteran rather than a rookie. At 6 foot 5 inches, he is a commander in goal and has been witnessed dishing out orders to his older backline week in and week out. These are all qualities you look for if you are Conte. Third, he would gain invaluable experience going through the daily routine and training regimen along with his idolo Buffon in the Italy camp. Plus, he won’t be asked to be an instant factor for La Nazionale as he would likely be the third choice keeper, debunking the concern many have that he may be rattled post-Euro should the pressure weigh on him.
It will be interesting to see which two keepers will have the priceless opportunity of learning under the tutelage of Buffon come June. Despite playing very little, most think it would be wise for Conte to select Sirigu as you need a veteran backup should Buffon run into some physical trouble. The ex-Palermo man is good insurance for Buffon, has plenty of experience playing for Italy and started for Prandelli in the thrilling 2-1 win over England at the last World Cup in Brazil. But again, the former Juventus manager may elect to choose keepers who’ve started regularly this season, which Sirigu has not done.
If you ask me, Donnarumma is deserving of the call-up. Yes, he just recently got promoted to Luigi Di Biagio’s Under-21 side and has yet to make an appearance. However, you can’t dismiss the fact that their are few options to choose from and he has been a top 5 keeper in Italy for a giant in Milan. Sportiello is a nice keeper but playing under the constant pressures that comes with wearing rossonero -while performing exceptionally well – gives Donnarumma the nod.
Antonio Conte will have his work cut out for him when he has to submit his final squad for Euros, but the decision to bring Donnarumma should be easy. The 16-year old is deserving of a spot with the senior side, but it remains to be seen if he is granted the honor of representing his country this summer for Euro 2016.