5 Reasons Why Gianluigi Donnarumma Needs to Continue His Career at AC Milan
One of the biggest surprises in Serie A this season has been the emergence of AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The goalkeeper saw action in several high-profile preseason games this summer, even parrying a penalty by World Cup winner Toni Kroos in a shootout against Real Madrid at the International Champions Cup in China.
However, it was a surprise when he turned up on the first-team roster when the season began, and a legitimate shock when coach Sinisa Mihajlovic put him on the team sheet for Milan's game against Sassuolo on October 25.
Did we mention that he did all this at the age of 16?
An injury to Diego Lopez saw Donnarumma installed permanently, and he's now the Rossoneri's unquestioned No. 1 and has taken the starter's role with poise, and on Thursday, he became the youngest player to ever play for the Italy under-21 team.
With his success have come the inevitable transfer rumors. Within month of his debut, British newspapers had him pegged for several Premier League clubs. The Independent reported Manchester United were interested in November. In February, Metro insisted that he was destined for Liverpool to replace the struggling Simone Mignolet.
But would Donnarumma be served well by such a move? Likely not. Staying in Milan would allow him to truly spread his wings and reach his immense potential.
What are the biggest reasons Donnarumma should stay? Let's take a look at the situation and explore the five most important.
It's Better for His Development
Serie A is a stacked league when it comes to goalkeepers.
Gianluigi Buffon of course comes to mind when you think of goalkeepers in Italy. But there is a plethora of men between the sticks in Serie A that would be at least above-average starters in any league.
Inter Milan's Samir Handanovic is one of the game's underrated goalies. Genoa's Mattia Perin has recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered late last season and would be a legitimate superstar on a bigger team. Atalanta's Marco Sportiello is an up-and-comer with star potential himself. Nicola Leali, on loan at Frosinone from Juventus, is rapidly improving and establishing himself as a viable candidate to replace Buffon.
There's something about Serie A that molds great goalkeepers. Perhaps it's the league's focus on tactics.
Most goalkeepers in Italy are more than simply shot-stoppers—they understand the game developing in front of them, control their penalty area, and marshal their defense in equal measure. It's what separated Buffon from Iker Casillas. The Spaniard was marginally better as a pure shot-stopper, but he didn't hold a candle to the Juventus man in those overlooked but vitally important areas.
It's precisely these areas that Donnarumma needs to improve upon. He has a decent handle on his box and claims a lot of crosses, but he can still be beaten to a ball by a determined attacker. He was lucky on Thursday when the Republic of Ireland under-21 side wasted an opportunity off a bobbled corner.
He also desperately needs to improve his distribution. Too often he holds balls at his feet too long, allowing himself to be pressured into inaccurate heaves up the field. This hasn't cost him yet, but he did make a scrambling save against Sampdoria after gifting the Blucerchiati an open net with an errant pass.
Serie A seems to give young goalkeepers a better education than most other leagues. If he stays, it could help him reach his potential that much faster.
The Chance to Be a Cornerstone
After a slow decline accelerated into a full-blown rebuild two seasons ago, Milan has been in the weeds.
The Rossoneri haven't had a very coherent plan for making that rebuilding effort succeed, at least until this summer. The team purchased a top-line striker in Carlos Bacca and a potential rock in defense in Alessio Romagnoli, and they have a primary creator in Giacomo Bonaventura.
In Donnarumma, they may have discovered a true franchise goalkeeper—something that is really difficult to find.
For the teenager, the challenge of being the cornerstone of the effort to restore Milan to their former glory is one he shouldn't overlook. If he stays and guides them back to the top of the table, he'll inspire the kind of devotion that Buffon earned after he stayed with Juventus through their post-Calciopoli season in Serie B.
If he succeeds here, Donnarumma can become more than a successful goalkeeper—he can become a true icon. He wouldn't achieve the same status if he parachutes into a foreign club, no matter how much success he might have.
National Team Prospects
The Italian national team tends to draw almost exclusively from Serie A.
The Azzurri took three players from Paris Saint-Germain to the 2014 World Cup, but that was the first time a player had gone to the finals in Savoy blue from outside of the Italian top flight since Francesco Coco in 2002—and even then he was at Barcelona on loan from AC Milan.
Donnarumma is poised to end up in a duel with Perin to replace Buffon when he finally decides to hang up his gloves. Any battle between the two would be close, and if one played in Serie A and the other in a foreign league it may give him a head-start.
Whoever is coaching the national team at that point would be able to see him play much more easily, and he would likely be more familiar with the defenders he'd be working with.
Playing abroad wouldn't disqualify Donnarumma from becoming the Azzurri's No. 1, but with quality opposition for the starter's spot like Perin, it could hamper him.
He's Still Young
Given the poise Donnarumma plays with, it's easy to forget sometimes that he only turned 17 a month ago.
Going abroad at any age can be a traumatic experience. The player ends up far from their families, while the language and food is different. Many players fail to settle after changing countries.
Imagine how that effect would be magnified if the player left at the age of 17.
There's a precedent for staying in Italy under these circumstances for this reason. When Simone Scuffet broke out at Udinese two years ago, he was heavily linked with a move to Atletico Madrid, but he turned it down to allow him to grow more gradually. The 19-year-old is now on loan at Como to develop further.
Growing up at Milan is different from growing up at Udinese or in Serie B, but Donnarumma has grown up as a Milan fan and has a strong support system behind him.
Staying at Milan would keep him settled and focused on developing, rather than pining for home.
The Prestige Factor
Over the last 10 years, Italian football has been in a decline phase. Serie A was ravaged by the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006, and the financial recession that followed two years later hit Italy especially hard.
The recession—the longest Italy has endured since World War II—ended last year, and the league now has to begin healing financially.
Right now, Juventus has used its new stadium to become the financial titans of the country, but even they are often treated like a feeder to the Premier League and the big Spanish and German clubs in the media.
The constant assumptions that Paul Pogba will leave the Turin team this summer, despite Juve director Giuseppe Marotta's insistence to Sky Sport that it is "highly likely that he will stay put," is a constant put-down to the Italian game.
It's imperative that Serie A's teams retain their best players. If Donnarumma goes abroad, it would be a further dent to Italian soccer's pride and reinforce the idea that the league is nothing more than a feeder for super-rich clubs abroad.
If the Rossoneri can keep their prodigy to themselves, it will be a step in the right direction for all involved in Italian football.