Just weeks after we all wept at the sheer beauty of Francesco Totti ending a lifetime in the Roma jersey, we are faced with a stark reminder of how hard people in this sport can be. Gianluigi Donnarumma has turned down a new contract with Milan.
What more could Milan have done? Nothing. He was launched from the youth academy into the first team at the age of 16, turned into a superstar and given the chance to earn senior Italy caps at 18. Offered a reported €4.5m per year salary to remain at San Siro, with the side he supposedly supported. If there’s one element here who cannot be blamed, it’s the Rossoneri hierarchy.
The easiest man to point the finger at is agent Mino Raiola, who relishes his role as a pantomime sneering villain, drowning in cash and yet forever looking as if he just rolled out of a pizza joint with sauce down his shirt. I’ve never seen the man with sauce on his shirt, but Raiola has the aura of sauce stains. It’s part of his being.
Adriano Galliani had few qualities as a CEO for Milan, but the best was being very good friends with Raiola and therefore able to curb his worst instincts. We’ve seen the representative ruin rapports between fans and the likes of Paul Pogba, Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Warning to Juventus supporters – he’s already representing Moise Kean, so prepare to get involved in another of these scenarios soon.
It’s too easy, though. Raiola is an unpleasant figure, everyone knows that and it’s part of his power. It’s also why a lot of players hire him in the first place. Donnarumma is 18 years old, but he’s very mature for his age and knows his own mind. Let’s not pretend he’s being brainwashed or dominated by Raiola, here. Gigio knows what he’s doing, just weeks after kissing the badge on his jersey.
Football is a business, but there are ways of doing things and Donnarumma did it all wrong. He sent Raiola to do the dirty work, refusing to at least have the decency to confirm his decision face-to-face with Milan directors. He kept silent when fans made appeals, continued to pretend he cared about the Rossoneri colours more than anything else, then walked out just as they were on the way back to the top with strong investment.
He could’ve waited a year. It would’ve been smarter, quite frankly, as he’d have more regular playing time to consolidate his status and could make Milan a tidy profit from his sale. Manchester United, Real Madrid or Manchester City would’ve gladly paid €100m in a year, he’d still only be 19 and could decide then whether it was wise to abandon a revamped side.
As for those Milan fans who are saying it’s not an issue, because we’ve already got Alessandro Plizzari – no, we don’t. He saved two penalties in a shoot-out for the Under-20 World Cup semi-final, but he wasn’t first choice goalkeeper in that tournament and he was error-prone for the rest of the game. As many have said before, Donnarumma isn’t the most technically-gifted goalkeeper – he’s awful with his feet, for a start – but he does have this unshakeable confidence that is crucial for the role. It is also extremely rare in a teenager.
Milan will move on. The Diavolo will roar and shrug off the snakes. Donnarumma will no doubt have a great career in future, but he’ll never be seen the same way again – by anybody.