Gianluigi Donnarumma may have missed the decisive spot kick as AC Milan suffered a 10-9 loss on penalties to Real Madrid, but Scott Orkney thinks the imposing 16-year-old goalkeeper still looks set to be a star of the future.
“There were many teams such as Juventus and Inter that were interested in my son,” Alfonso Donnarumma told Il Mattino after Milan paid near €250,000 to sign his then 14-year-old son from Club Napoli Castellamare football school in April 2013.
At one point I received a phone call from one of the directors who told me: ‘either you come to Milan or we’ll come down there to pick up Gianluigi!’
Already standing at 6’4″ (193cm) tall, the towering teenager had been offered a deal by city rivals Inter after impressing during a trial. However, Donnarumma had his heart set on a move to the Diavolo.
A self-confessed fanatic of the club since early childhood, his dream move came true after first being discovered by former Ascoli shot-stopper turned goalkeeper coach Ernesto Ferraro.
Having previously helped launch the Serie A careers of Castellammare di Stabia natives such as Antonio Mirante and Gennaro Iezzo, Ferraro was also instrumental in helping Antonio Donnarumma secure a move to Milan three years earlier.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother by moving north from the Bay of Naples to the Milanello youth system, Gianluigi has since risen rapidly from the Giovanissimi Nazionali to the first-team squad.
He was given his first experience of being part of a senior matchday squad when Diego Lopez was suspended and Michael Agazzi injured for the 2-0 win against Cesena on February 22.
It has even been speculated by La Gazzetta dello Sport that former coach Filippo Inzaghi considered giving him his Serie A debut in the final game of last season at Atalanta.
However, the 16-year-old has not had to wait long for opportunities heading into the 2015-16 season after featuring in the friendlies against Alcione, Legnano and Olympique Lyonnais.
In spite of missing the Derby della Madonnina win against Inter in Shenzhen on July 25 with flu, Donnarumma was given another chance to shine in the final game of the Chinese edition of the International Champions Cup, against Real Madrid.
Introduced along with Gabriel Paletta and Davide Calabria when Milan made a triple substitution on 72 minutes, the Italy Under-17 international was not called on to make a single save after the match ended goalless and went to a penalty shoot-out.
Sent the wrong way on all four of his first penalties, the youngest player to have played in a game at the 2015 ICC tournament finally guessed correctly to force sudden death.
Throwing his ever growing now 6′ 5″ (197cm) frame down low to his left to deny Toni Kroos, Donnarumma nearly immediately got a hand to Dani Carvajal’s ‘cucchiaio‘ lob before eventually having to take his own spot kick.
Told to improve on using his feet after an error in the opening game of the Torneo di Viareggio against PSV Eindhoven in February, the teenager failed to hold his nerve as his penalty down the middle was saved by the legs of Kiko Casilla.
But the client of super agent Mino Raiola will have several more opportunities to further his talents having signed his first professional contract until 2018 alongside Patrick Cutrone and Manuel Locatelli on March 31.
Confirmed as third-choice goalkeeper behind Diego Lopez and Christian Abbiati under new coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, the 16-year-old has also been praised by the club hierarchy.
“I would like to thank [Adriano] Galliani and [Silvio] Berlusconi for their kind words about me,” Donnarumma told the media assembled at Malpensa Airport as Milan returned home from Shanghai.
“As a Rossonero, it is a great feeling to play for Milan and I hope to continue this for many years because they are my team.”