Things are looking up for Milan.
While the Serie A giants are no where near the domineering side that tormented Europe back in the early 2000s, Gennaro Gattuso’s boys look far more assured and capable this season than they have done for quite a while.
Lead by January signing Krzysztof Piatek and supported by Premier League rejects Suso and Tiemoue Bakayoko, the Rossoneri have looked strong in 2019 and have their sights set firmly on finishing in the top four places this season.
But perhaps their most impressive player this term has been their young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who’s quietly got on with things after the drama of recent years.
The 20-year-old is often talked up as one of the most exciting young players in world football, which means a host of European giants have been linked with him in the past – including Real Madrid, Man United, Paris Saint-Germain and Serie A rivals Juventus.
And while he seems happy to stay in Milan for the time being, his head was turned by the bright lights of Europe’s elite in the summer of 2017.
Following the conclusion of the 2016/17 Serie A season, Milan CEO Marco Fassone confirmed to the press that Donnarumma was set to leave in the following year, claiming in a press conference that his agent – the notorious Mino Raiola – had urged him not to sign a new deal.
Milan’s fan base erupted in outrage.
The infamous ultras group Curva Sud Milano were the most vocal about their anger – writing a scathing open letter to Donnarumma, criticising his greed and lack of loyalty to the club – before unveiling a huge unsavoury banner at the San Siro telling him to leave.
It then all came to head in an Under-21 match between Italy and Denmark, when Donnarumma was pelted with fake money by angry fans.
It was clear that Donnarumma would need to work on re-building his relationship with the club’s supporters, but he seemingly never lost the faith of his manager.
Having consoled him on the pitch after the unveiling of the banner, Gattuso publicly backed his keeper, saying: “He will have my protection, for all the protection I can give.
“He’s an 18-year-old kid, of course he was shaken. I can only thank him for what he’s doing.
“For his age, he’s the best goalkeeper in the world right now. You can tell from his face he’s not happy, but I have known a great athlete and great kid.”
For all of his past mistakes, Donnarumma has begun to repay his manager’s trust with some world class performances this season.
In a league that’s rich in goalkeeping talent, he’s been talked up by many as one of the players of the season so far, having kept 11 clean-sheets in all competitions and earning man of the match awards in recent games against Napoli and Roma.
He was even named as the best goalkeeper in the Serie A over the winter period by Opta.
Donnarumma has also established himself as Italy’s No.1, following the international retirement of his goalkeeping hero Gianluigi Buffon.
With 11 caps to his name already, he’ll be the Azzurri’s undisputed first-choice keeper for many years to come and will be the backbone of their Euro 2020 qualification campaign this year.
It’s a new dawn for both Italy’s national team and Milan, with both looking to rise up from a difficult few years.
And with Donnarumma guarding the posts for both, it seems the two have a safe pair of hands, at the very least.
Game-by-game, the youngster is earning his redemption.
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