More than a year after his Serie A debut, Gigio Donnarumma is finally an adult, officially speaking.
Officially, I say, because Gigio has been an adult for a long time now, on the pitch. In fact, aside from the countless technical abilities that we need not mention, AC Milan’s number 99 has shone for his character and maturity. Constantly mounted with ever-augmenting expectations and burdensome comparisons, the kid has calmly taken on the task of guarding Milan’s goal, something which many experienced keepers have struggled to do.
Perhaps because of the demanding Milanese crowd, or because of the club’s recent turbulent times, the rossoneri had lacked with security in goal for a number of years, prior to the youngster’s sudden rise. After the departure of Dida, Milan’s goal was guarded by the likes of Kalac, Storari, Amelia and the overall respectable, but inconsistent, Abbiati. ‘Guarded’, however, is clearly a euphemism in this case. Blunders were regular at San Siro and every time a shot soared towards the Diavolo‘s goal, fans would catch their breath and jump up their seats, terrified by the possibility of yet another mess-up. Even the ex-Real Madrid man Diego Lopez, who kick started his red&black career very positively, began to prove less reliable in his second year in Milan.
It was then that Donnarumma had his chance. Under the guidance of Siniša Mihajlovic, Gigio debuted , aged 16, against Sassuolo, during a 2-1 win for Milan – a match that saw him commit a rookie’s mistake on Domenico Berardi’s free-kick goal. After all, that’s exactly what he was, a rookie. A rookie, who nobody had ever seen play and who was replacing an established, internationally-famous professional – in the eyes of the majority, it was a total risk, for the club and for Donnarumma’s development. So many times, we have seen teenagers thrown into the mixer way too soon, with dire results. And still, that gigantic child, with his genuine smile and humble ways, instilled tranquillity amongst every fan at San Siro. As his enormous figure lumbered off the pitch, at the end of that Sassuolo game, it was clear that it was a risk that every rossonero was willing to take.
In hindsight, we’ll all agree that Mihajlovic’s risk, or what seemed like a risk at the time, has since paid dividends for Milan, and for Italian Football. That afore-mentioned sense of calmness and security, absent for so many years in rossoneri hearts, is yet to leave the Stadium, and will probably endure for many years to come. Following his debut, Gigio’s mistakes decreased proportionally to his never-ending game time – as one would expect. Learning from his mistakes quicker than all his peers, and building on his god-given talents, the youngster has gone on to collect as much as 55 Serie A caps for the club – more than Paolo Maldini achieved before turning 18. Paolo Maldini, ladies and gentlemen.
Between his debut and today, the day of his 18th birthday, Gigio has done many things that are unknown not only to most teenagers, but to most adults. Playing for the National team, winning the Supercoppa, in spectacular fashion, and, significantly, imposing himself in the starting XI of one of Italy’s great clubs. And at the heart of this incredibly premature success is the player’s personality, above any other factor. On the day of his 18th, we are paradoxically talking about how mature Donnarumma already is, and not about how mature he should become.
Normally, an 18th birthday sees one’s parents providing their kids with some last-minute advice, before they definitively plunge into the adult world. And whilst Donnarumma seems to be needing little or no advice of the kind, I’m sure that he will be able to treasure any lesson he’ll receive, today, like on any other occasion.
Dear Gigio, happy 18th birthday!