Back in September, ex-Milan star Demetrio Albertini challenged Gianluigi Donnarumma to match Gigi Buffon’s achievements. “He is definitely ready to replace Buffon, I believe he is a great goalkeeper and a brilliant talent”. Albertini is not alone in his presumption: Buffon retires, Donnarumma takes his place, one child prodigy to another. It’s simple, no? The belief may be valid, as the Milan youngster’s ability has been proven again and again. Against Fiorentina this season the 18-year-old notched up his 100th appearance for the Rossoneri, an impressive feat and one that (should he still be in Milan) could see him matching the likes of Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi for time served.
Donnarumma in his short yet distinguished career has kept his place because of his superlative ability. He has the promise to be one the best in his generation and his physical stature in itself is years beyond his tender age. His reach on crosses and his ability to get to shots is made easier because of it and his decisiveness is something that many goalkeepers don’t develop until later in their career. Look at Wojciech Szczesny and how he has grown (quickly) into relying and trusting his decisions instead of falling back on his athleticism. This took much coaching and time.
For all his fundamental goalkeeping skills and the fact that even Dino Zoff thinks he is destined to be one of the greats, it must not be forgotten that Donnarumma is still learning. All goalkeepers make errors and his are few and far between, but he still relies very much on the centre-backs for instruction. One criticism is that, whilst his distribution is good, he can sometimes put the less experienced defenders under pressure and doesn’t deal with back-passes well. Still, this is a small issue in the wider scheme of things.
For all the talent Donnarumma has, he cannot rest on his laurels. Before Italy’s game against England, Luigi Di Biagio admitted that the decision to not play Mattia Perin caused him “a bit of a headache”. The Genoa goalkeeper is arguably Donnarumma’s equal and perhaps has a more rounded game. The fact that he has stayed at Genoa and has also been out through some cruciate ligament injuries in this time has seen him fly under the radar somewhat, but he is certainly going to be competition when Buffon eventually retires. There was no surprise that the 25-year old shot stopper was lined up by Milan as Gigi’s replacement when it seemed as though the latter would leave last summer.
Perin, at 6’2 is a refined and athletic keeper with an incredible upward trajectory that allows him to dominate his area and take crosses. This incredible spring can also see him fly into making some spectacular saves, though he doesn’t have to do that often, as his sense of position is extremely good. Perhaps his most notable quality (and one he uses a lot at Genoa) is his ability to get up from the first save and be ready for the second shot. He certainly gets more practice than Donnarumma in that area and can be thanked for helping Genoa stay in Serie A on more than one occasion.
Without mentioning Alex Meret, or the fact that Simone Scuffet may one day return to form, Italy is packed with other goalkeeping options. Donnarumma and Perin are two of the best and either would do the Azzurri proud long term. Perhaps if Napoli make their move on Perin, then he will gain even more exposure and may really be talked about in the same breath as Gigio.
The future is bright between the posts for Italy, but the question of who replaces Buffon is far from decided.