During an era in which goalkeepers are judged as much for their playmaking qualities as their shot-stopping abilities, Gianluigi Donnarumma is decisively old school.
He might not quite be to the taste of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp then (which is fortunate news for their respective clubs after already setting new world-record transfer fees for goalkeepers in subsequent summers) but if you’re the kind of football fan who appreciates glovesmen that quite simply keep the ball out of the net, and even more so find unrelenting joy in watching goalies punt it as far as possible whenever there’s even a slight hint of them being closed down by a pacey centre-forward, then the Italian prodigy will be your favourite No.1 in European football for the next few decades.
Forget all the frilly trimmings that come with modern goalkeepers like defence-splitting dropkicks and punches that launch counter-attacks - Donnarumma is a world-class shot-stopper, pure and simple.
2018 has been…
A rite of passage. Throughout Donnarumma’s short career he’s been constantly billed as the inevitable successor to Gianluigi Buffon and indeed, the Juventus legend has served as the barometer for Donnarumma’s performances to be judged upon, their careers expected to follow almost precisely the same arc of development.
After a bit of will-he-won’t-he, Buffon appeared to retire from Italy duties in May - while falling short of making the decision categorically binding - as the country came to terms with missing out on the World Cup, and Donnarumma went on to be Azzurri’s exclusive No.1 for the Nations League, conceding only two goals.
For AC Milan too, the teenager has been an important player during a time of rebuilding at the San Siro, last term’s sixth-place finish on course to be improved upon this time around. In total, Donnarumma’s 41 club appearances (up until last weekend) throughout 2018 resulted in 13 clean sheets, although a closer look at individual form will tell you he probably deserved a higher haul.
Joking aside, if Donnarumma wishes to leave AC Milan behind and join one of Europe’s most elite clubs, improving on his kicking game and his overall willingness to receive the ball is a must. It doesn’t come naturally to every goalkeeper, but the good news is that Donnarumma has plenty of time to work on it. He’s already world-class when it comes to the basics of the trade and doesn’t turn 20 until February.
The other issue is Champions League football. Clearly Donnarumma’s good enough to be testing himself at that level, so if AC Milan don’t qualify for next season’s competition then there’s a decision to be made. With two years left on his contract come the summer, it’s actually the perfect time for the club and the player to evaluate their options.
B - A very solid year in which the inevitable happened, but there’s certainly more to come