Serie A and the Italian football in general, both on club and international level, have long been on what turned out to be quite an unsuccessful hunt for the worthy successor of legendary Gianluigi Buffon until recently.
Without a proper hair to his throne at Juventus and national team, Juventus shot stopper has been untouchable for the best part of the last two decades and still remains – at the age of 38 – undeterred in increasing scrutiny.
A living legend is slowly starting to show signs of slowing down, which was most evident in his nation’s most recent match against Spain, when Buffon’s blatant error lead to La Roja’s goal. His missed 55th-minuted clearance in front of Vitolo was not something world was used to seeing from Italy’s No 1, as Buffon demonstrated that even the greatest of them all can fall.
It was a detail which will leave no stains in his glorious career, but perhaps also an element that should be taken as warning sign for Italy.
A change of generation between the sticks has long been mooted for the Azzurri, but Genoa’s Mattia Perin, Olympiacos’ Nicola Leali and Udinese’s Simone Scuffet who sit in Buffon’s shadow, waiting for a chance to shine, might be in for a disappointment with the unstoppable emergence of Buffon’s namesake – Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Meteoric rise of the talented 17-year-old has made him the leading contender for the title of Azzurri’s future No 1, at the same time alarming some of the biggest clubs in Europe who are keeping close tabs on the brilliantly gifted AC Milan goalkeeper.
Plenty of eyebrows were raised exactly 12 months ago, when temperamental Serbian coach Sinisa Mihajlovic allowed the young boy of 17 to leapftog Christian Abbati and Diego Lopez and move up the pecking order making his competitive debut for Milan against Sassuolo in October 2015.
Chosen to start in front of Lopez, who endured a fair share of criticism, Donnarumma was given a vote of confidence from the former Milan boss, known for his rash and hasty decisions. The introduction of Gianluigi Donnarumma to the first-team seemed as such, but only to the inexperienced eye.
Donnarumma’s emergence came as a surprise only to those who were not close to AC Milan’s family as Donnarumma’s breach into the fold had been just the matter of time.
First given a taste of professional football by Inzaghi, who played him on the bench against Cesena at just 15 years old in the 2014-15 season, Donnarumma was heaped praise upon from coaches, pundits and media alike from the moment he set foot on the football pitch.
As Rossoneri struggle to gain footing and catch up against the competition in a financially demanding world, the Chinese takeover is set to bring a new down to the club as officials look to make Gianluigi Donnarumma the holding pillar of the new AC Milan.
In the meantime, speculations continue to mount about him leaving the Rossoneri, with super-agent Mino Rayola adding fuel to fire by a €170 million valuation. And with the media adding links to Chelsea, Juventus and La Liga champions Barcelona into the mix, the increasingly high pressure could only have a negative impact on such a young professional.
It comes quite often in the ruthless world football that young players such as GIanluigi Donnarumma get distracted by the perks of being under the spotlight. The world has seen its fair share of talented stars’ careers taking a wrong turn at the sight of the first challenge, often presented as a multi-million contract.
A Humble Heart
Gianluigi Donnarumma appears to be quite different as the boy himself keeps insisting he is just a humble and grounded young boy looking to learn his way through to the top.
Donnarumma’s dominant physical frame apparently hides a heart of a teenager, tender and vulnerable. With the proper guidance however, the 17-year-old Milan’s wunderkind should have no problems achieving his full potential and reaching the highest heights of the professional sport sooner rather than later.
With eight Serie A appearances already in the new season, Donnarumma has quickly become a mainstay in the new and pleasantly surprising Milan.
Young shot stopper will without a doubt be between the sticks for Milan’s next match against Serie A champions Juventus, who have identified Donnarumma as Buffon’s legitimate heir. Rossoneri are given the betting odds of 16/5 to emerge with what will be a surprising win over Bianconeri as Donnarumma relishes a chance to go up against his role model.
It will be a meeting of Italy’s legacy and future, widely symbolic in its grandeur.
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