As he was almost 6 feet tall at the age of 10, Gianluigi Donnarumma has always known what it is to stand out from the crowd.
The Italian goalkeeper has spent his career in the limelight, making his debut for AC Milan’s childhood heroes at just 16 and becoming the natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest than the country has ever produced.
If Sunday’s Euro 2020 final against England at Wembley ends with a penalty shootout, Donnarumma will give Italian fans confidence. He has won all four competitive shots on goal he has played, although he missed his own attempt when Milan beat Portuguese club Rio Ave in a Europa League qualifier early last season. .
Gianluigi Donnarumma could be the reason England don’t win Euro 2020 trophy
When the semi-final against Spain went on penalties, Donnarumma was decisive. His 6-foot-5 frame surely played a part in Dani Olmo – nerfed since the quarter-final against Switzerland – pulling his effort over the bar, before doing a light job on the kick. Alvaro Morata, allowing Jorginho to send Italy to the final.
In a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Donnarumma is the only stellar name, the only Italian XI player who could rightfully claim to be the best in the world at his post.
He has just signed a five-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain worth almost £ 200,000 a week after breaking his contract with Milan. The 22-year-old hasn’t even played a game for his new club, but thanks to his performances in the tournament, they are already calling him ‘Mains d’Or’ in the French capital.
Goalkeeper Donnarumma debuted for childhood heroes AC Milan at just 16
International football hasn’t always been so sweet for Donnarumma, however. He showed up at the 2017 European Under-21 Championship while agent Mino Raiola – who also represents Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba – was trying to get a huge pay rise for Donnarumma, then just 18. years.
Distracted by the noise surrounding his future, he had a bad tournament and that, combined with his contract talks, prompted fans on social media, who mocked the banknotes with his face on it and gave him the nickname of “Dollarumma”.
Despite the scale of his contract with PSG, Donnarumma’s work over the past month means there have been few such remarks since the decision was announced.
Born in the town of Castellammare di Stabia, 32 km southeast of Naples, Donnarumma and his older brother Antonio were inspired by an uncle who had played in local leagues.
He also became the natural heir to Italy of Gianluigi Buffon – one of their best keepers to date.
If Euro 2020 final against England goes on penalties, Donnarumma will feel confident
“He was really important to me,” Donnarumma explained. “I was five years old when my uncle, who also trained my brother, took me to the local courts. This is where my passion for the goalkeeper started.
“The best part was my first day there, with my uncle pulling and I diving. I was never scared, I was a daredevil and maybe that’s why I decided to play in goal.
“I grew up near Pompeii and shared a room with my sister. In my room I had posters of Buffon and (former Milan goalkeeper) Dida – they have always been my idols.
“My sister always took care of me because I was the baby in the family. When I signed for Milan, I had to leave home at 13 to move there. My mom cried so much, but I told myself not to give in.
Nine years older than Gianluigi, Antonio is a reasonable keeper, albeit somewhat inferior to his brother. He joined Milan with Gianluigi but never made an impression and had a series of loan spells in the lower divisions with Gubbio and Bari.
The goalkeeper has won all four competitive shootouts he has played
Despite being proud of his Neapolitan roots, Donnarumma often clashed with supporters from Napoli. Already frustrated that such a super talent had turned his back on his local club to join one of the giants of the north, the anger of the Naples fans overflowed during a video of Donnarumma posted on social networks in April 2018, boasting of a crucial delay except that he made Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik.
Donnarumma claimed he was just teasing his uncle, a huge Napoli fan, but the damage was done. When Napoli secured a 1-0 victory over Milan in March, their bench endlessly baited Donnarumma and the goalkeeper overflowed, screaming his rage against them at the final whistle.
He is unlikely to be so easily wound up on Sunday. Extremely confident in his abilities, he can appear distant but those who know him well say that he is shy.
It was the keeper himself, rather than Raiola, who pushed the hardest for the move to Paris as he wants to test himself regularly at the end of the Champions League.
For a while, Juventus emerged as their most likely destination, prompting furious Milan fans to face Donnarumma on the club’s training ground. Donnarumma was annoyed at the time, but he would be happy to be assaulted again on Sunday night.
And if it’s after a penalty shootout, so much the better.