Gianluigi Donnarumma Is on the Cusp of Goalkeeping Greatness

    Gianluigi Donnarumma made his 200th appearance for Milan | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

    In Gianluigi Donnarumma’s 200th game, Milan picked up a crucial 2-1 win at Sassuolo on Tuesday night.

    Though he couldn’t keep out Francesco Caputo’s first-half penalty, the young Italian was hardly troubled on a momentous night for him personally.

    It was quite fitting that the 21-year-old played his milestone match against the Neroverdi, as they were the opponent he made his competitive Serie A debut against five years ago.

    Donnarumma has come a long way since that first appearance, having added a wealth of experience to the excellent abilities that he showed as a gangly 16-year-old that day at San Siro.

    Yet even beforehand, he was already turning heads, with the club needing to get special permission to have him on their bench for a league game against Cesena in February 2015. A few months later, then-Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola enquired about the teenager, having been impressed with his displays during a pre-season tournament.

    In 2015, at the Audi Cup, Guardiola came to us and said, “But where did he come from?” He was doing important things when he was 15.

    – Gigi Ragno, Milan’s ex-goalkeeping coach

    Any doubts over his inexperience were dispersed a few weeks later, when he was widely praised for his performance in a goalless draw against Atalanta – so much so that the Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport labelled him as a ‘miracle-maker’. From this point, he never looked back, having forced his way into a permanent spot in the first-team.

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    Donnarumma quickly established himself as Milan’s number one goalkeeper | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    By the end of 2016, he had not only made his international debut for Italy, but also played a starring role in the Rossoneri’s Supercoppa Italia triumph over Juventus, decisively saving Paulo Dybala’s penalty to help his team triumph 4-3 on penalties.

    All at just 17 years old – a remarkable feat that few could have achieved. Since then, he’s hardly put a foot wrong and has retained the number one spot in Milan – being the pillar of stability the club have needed amid their hiring and firing of multiple managers.

    He’s also become the first-choice goalkeeper for Italy, with his predecessor Gianluigi Buffon predicting Donnarumma to have an ‘extraordinary career’ ahead of him.

    Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluigi Donnarumma
    Buffon is a huge fan of Donnarumma, and has helped mentor him while on international duty | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    The word ‘consistent’ comes to mind in particular when describing Donnarumma, who has had another great season at the helm of a backline that remains as one of the best in Serie A.

    He’s kept the second-most clean sheets in the league, with only Juan Musso of Udinese notching more than his 11. It’s also the fifth-season in a row that he’s kept at least ten clean sheets, while his saves tally stacks up favourably against the world’s best – he’s made more saves than Jan Oblak and Marc-André ter Stegen, for example.

    Physically strong, he’s an imposing figure at set-pieces and always wins the ball whenever he jumps to claim it. The 21-year-old is also deceptively quick, rushing off his line to make vital stops when Milan are vulnerable to a counter-attack.

    Yet it can be argued that his best qualities are found in his mindset, and not in his shot-stopping skills. Widely lauded for his resilience and character, the Italian never appears flustered on the pitch and mostly tends to make the right decision.

    And though his ball-playing ability could improve considerably, it’s still vastly better from when he first started. Against Sassuolo, his passing accuracy was around 86%, suggesting there’s plenty of scope to average a higher rate than the current 72% he’s at for the 2019/20 season.

    If he can develop his passing even further, then there’s no doubt that Donnarumma can go on to be the best goalkeeper in the world over the next decade. And who knows, maybe even beyond – if the first 200 games are anything to go by.

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