Italy spot kick king! PSG new boy Gianluigi Donnarumma has always been destined to scale the heights… and Azzurri fans will be confident ‘Golden Hands’ can inspire Euro glory against England if Wembley final goes to penalties
- Gianluigi Donnarumma made his debut for boyhood heroes AC Milan at just 16
- He emerged as the natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest keepers
- If the Euro 2020 final against England goes to penalties, he will feel confident
- He has come out on top in all four competitive shootouts he has contested
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
As he was nearly 6ft tall by the age of 10, Gianluigi Donnarumma has always known how it is to stand out from the crowd.
The Italy goalkeeper has spent his career in the limelight, making his debut for boyhood heroes AC Milan aged just 16 and emerging as the natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest the country has ever produced.
If Sunday’s Euro 2020 final against England at Wembley goes to penalties, Donnarumma will have Italy fans feeling confident. He has come out on top in all four competitive shootouts he has contested, even though he missed his own attempt as Milan defeated Portuguese club Rio Ave in a Europa League qualifier at the beginning of last season.
Gianluigi Donnarumma could be the reason England fail to claim the Euro 2020 trophy
When the semi-final against Spain went to penalties, Donnarumma was decisive. His 6ft 5in frame surely played a part in Dani Olmo — nerveless from the spot in the quarter-final against Switzerland — firing his effort over the bar, before he made light work of Alvaro Morata’s kick, allowing Jorginho to send Italy into the final.
In a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Donnarumma is the one stellar name, the only player in Italy’s XI who could legitimately claim to be the best in the world in his position.
He has just signed a five-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain worth nearly £200,000 a week after running down his deal with Milan. The 22-year-old has not even played a game for his new club, yet thanks to his performances in the tournament, they are already calling him ‘Golden Hands’ in the French capital.
Goalkeeper Donnarumma made his debut for boyhood heroes AC Milan at just 16 years old
International football has not always been so sweet for Donnarumma, however. He turned up at the 2017 European Under 21 Championship while agent Mino Raiola — who also represents Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba —was trying to secure a huge pay rise for Donnarumma, then only 18.
Distracted by the noise surrounding his future, he had a poor tournament and that, combined with his contract talks, incited fans on social media, who mocked up bank notes with his face on them and gave him the nickname ‘Dollarumma’.
Despite the size of his deal with PSG, Donnarumma’s work in the past month means there have been few such remarks since the move was announced.
Born in the town of Castellammare di Stabia, 20 miles south east of Naples, Donnarumma and his older brother, Antonio, were inspired by an uncle who had played in local leagues.
He also emerged as Italy’s natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon – one their best keepers to date
If the Euro 2020 final against England goes to penalties, Donnarumma will feel confident
‘He was really important for me,’ explained Donnarumma. ‘I was five when my uncle, who also coached my brother, took me to the local pitches. That’s where my passion for goalkeeping began.
‘The best moment was my first day there, with my uncle shooting and me diving about. I was never scared, I was a daredevil and perhaps that is why I decided to play in goal.
‘I grew up near Pompeii and I shared a room with my sister. In my room I had posters of Buffon and (former Milan goalkeeper) Dida — they were always my idols.
‘My sister always looked after me because I was the baby of the family. When I signed for Milan I had to leave home at 13 to move up there. My mum cried so much, but I told myself not to give in.’
Nine years older than Gianluigi, Antonio is a reasonable goalkeeper, though inferior by some way to his brother. He joined Milan with Gianluigi but never made an impression and had a series of loan spells in the lower divisions with Gubbio and Bari.
The goalkeeper has come out on top in all four competitive shootouts he has contested
Though he is proud of his Neapolitan roots, Donnarumma has clashed often with Napoli supporters. Already frustrated that such a super talent had turned his back on his local club to move to one of the giants of the north, the Napoli fans’ anger boiled over at a video Donnarumma released on social media in April 2018, boasting about a crucial late save he had made from Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik.
Donnarumma claimed he was merely teasing his uncle, a huge Napoli fan, but the damage had been done. When Napoli claimed a 1-0 win over Milan in March, their bench baited Donnarumma ceaselessly and the goalkeeper boiled over, yelling his rage at them at the final whistle.
He is unlikely to be so easily wound up on Sunday. Hugely confident in his ability, he can appear standoffish but those who know him well say he is shy.
It was the goalkeeper himself, rather than Raiola, who pushed hardest for the move to Paris as he wants to test himself regularly at the sharp end of the Champions League.
For a time, Juventus appeared his most likely destination, prompting furious Milan fans to confront Donnarumma at the club’s training ground. Donnarumma was unnerved at the time, but he would happily be mobbed again come Sunday evening.
And if it is after a penalty shootout, so much the better.
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