AC Milan starlet Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper to feature in a Serie A game last month and has rapidly grown in stature since.
Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic sprang a major surprise when dropping the experienced Spaniard Diego Lopez in favour of teenage understudy Gianluigi Donnarumma for the visit of Sassuolo on October 25.
Aged 16 years and 8 months, the Naples native strode confidently into the side and assisted the Rossoneri to a narrow 2-1 victory despite his tender years.
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Though he was beaten by a Domenico Berardi free-kick on his senior debut, he kept two clean sheets in three subsequent fixtures, while AC Milan have not lost throughout his four appearances to date in order to ease the pressure on his brave boss.
His opportunity may have arrived earlier than expected, but newly-introduced Under-21 international squad member, Gianluigi Donnarumma has already done enough to prove his worth at the very highest level.
The outstandingly tall goalkeeper made his initial steps towards stardom with local club Scuola Calcio Club Napoli, before a trial offer from Inter.
AC Milan’s bitter rivals had been watching Donnarumma closely and invited him to train with the club’s youth set-up, but a dramatic turn of events saw the promising stopper eventually find his way on to the opposite side of the San Siro divide.
Diavolo goalkeeping coach Luciano Castellini instantly spotted his burgeoning talent when Inter’s youth sector travelled to face their city foes, and he duly snapped him up for the Rossoneri academy at the age of 14.
In doing so, Milan also overcame strong competition from the likes of Roma, Juventus, Udinese and Fiorentina for his services.
It capped a remarkable journey which saw the youngster follow in the footsteps of older brother Antonio, who also graduated through the ranks at AC Milan, prior to his switch to current club Genoa.
On the evidence of four first-team outings thus far, it appears that the Nerazzurri have missed out on this generation’s 'next big thing'.
A NEW SAVIOUR
At 6 feet 5 inches, Donnarumma provides an imposing obstacle between the posts, yet also possesses supreme agility and impressive reflexes.
Following his opening start against Sassuolo, he ensured Milan recorded a first clean sheet of the Serie A campaign versus Chievo just three days later with a couple of eye-catching stops.
Donnarumma also played a key part in his team’s finest result so far this term when travelling to face Europa League participants Lazio, whom they comprehensively defeated 3-1 at the Stadio Olimpico.
He then single-handedly rescued AC Milan at home to unfancied Atalanta, making a series of top-class saves to repel a rampant visiting outfit on numerous occasions.
Luca Cigarini’s header was denied by the adolescent hero before the midfielder somehow ballooned the rebound over the bar.
Maximiliano Moralez then drew a solid parry from Donnarumma at his near post, prior to Alberto Grassi’s downward nod that found the inexperienced ‘keeper heading in the other direction.
Unfortunately for Grassi, Atalanta’s nemesis managed to stick out his long legs sufficiently to divert the effort away to safety.
Donnarumma must improve upon several aspects of his game, including the command of his area and capacity to deal with aerial balls into the penalty box.
However, he exudes such a huge amount of self-belief for a young man and has backed it up with first-rate performances in his debut Serie A season, suggesting that Italian football may have finally found a natural successor to the wonderful Gianluigi Buffon.
Does Donnarumma possess the ability to become as good as Buffon? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!