For the better of the last two seasons, no young prospect has proven more exciting than AC Milan wonder-kid Gianluigi Donnarumma. For reasons so obvious that if you had to question why, I’d assume you’ve quite literally been living under rock.
Debuting at 16 years old, the stout young shot-stopper christened the Rossoneri net on 25 October 2015 at the San Siro, replacing veteran first choice keeper Diego Lopez. Since then, Donnarumma has been the name on the lips of not only calcio aficionados, but football fans everywhere across continental Europe. Already in line to eclipse the 70 appearance marker for the red and black at seasons’ end, this Class of 99′ teenager who – boasting an imposing 6 foot 5 frame – possesses all the necessary physical and technical means to successfully claim the throne of Gianluigi Buffon for the Azzurri once his gloves are hung up.
Contractual discussions aside, the sky is truly the limit for the Castellammare di Stabia-born ‘portiere,’ regardless of which goal he roams. But, in his long-casting shadow, another adolescent goalkeeper lies in the wait, itching to get his opportunity.
While we were all out lauding Donnarumma’s meteoric rise in Italy, Alessandro Plizzari seemed to slip through the cracks despite being considered one of the system’s most promising talents. Residing from Crema in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, the 17-year old has rossonero running through his veins, having been a product in the widely successful Milan system since the age of 5. For the better of 12 years, he has witnessed the historic heights of the club, as well as the disappointing lows. Born and bred by the Milanese club, these colours are all he knows and, one day, dreams of wearing proudly over his shoulders for the first team.
Last September, manager Vincenzo Montella promoted Plizzari from the Primavera side and granted him his club debut in a friendly versus Bournemouth on 3 September 2016. Since then, the baby-faced teenager’s been a regular on the Rossoneri bench – week in and week out – backing up Donnarumma and veteran Marco Storari. But, while he awaits his Serie A debut, there is plenty to be excited about when discussing his profile.
Between the posts, his game plays much bigger than his actual frame tends to project. Standing in at 6 feet 2 inches, the size advantage is already on his side, and will only continue to work in his favour as a keeper throughout puberty. AC Milan goalkeeper coach Alfredo Magni, along with guiding figures Diego Lopez and Storari, managed to mold him into a youngster with the reflexes to pull off the miraculous save up above his shoulders, but also parry the lower whipped shots as well. Distribution has been Donnarumma’s biggest weakness, yet it could arguably be a major strength of Plizzari who moves a bit more swiftly around the box than his superior. Former president Silvio Berlusconi even praised the youngster prior to his stepping down, saying “behind Gigio is another keeper in Plizzari who is said to be just as good.” Certainly, Milan have quite the luxury in multiple options, but the question becomes: with Donnarumma well within his right to be the controller for the next two decades, does Plizzari have a future in Milano?
Last January, with the sale under doubt, many European giants supposedly asked about Donnarumma, only to be shown the door as he remained off the market. Yet, in hearing about his somewhat secretive skillset, Manchester City turned to the “consolation prize” offering Milan 2 million euros to coerce Plizzari into joining Pep Guardiola in England. To their disappointment, they were denied. But, what this tells us is that many big clubs sense Plizzari has the potential to be very special, even if the vast majority of the footballing universe have yet to witness anything that says so.
AC Milan were bought out by Chinese backed purchasing group Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux last month, which should help eliminate some doubt for Gianluigi Donnarumma and agent Mino Raiola who have yet to pen a long-term contract agreement. His current contract set to expire June 2018, which means the last thing new ownership want to do is sell Plizzari before getting Donnarumma’s commitment to the new project headed by Yonghong Li. That being said, the reality is Plizzari shows far too much promise to be playing second fiddle to Donnarumma, which means a loan would serve him right. There is no doubt in my mind that given the rapidity of Donnarumma’s growth, many clubs in Italy would open the door for Plizzari to gain proper minutes. Plenty of Serie B sides would surely line up to stick Plizzari in net, so expect clubs all over the Peninsula to make serious inquiries next month.
What is clear to me is that due to his consistent call-ups with the first team this year, Plizzari has somewhat grown past the Primavera stage of his career and is ready to take on a much bigger role – for both club and country. On Thursday, Italy U-20 boss Alberigo Evani revealed his 21- player squad that will take part in the 2010 Under-20 World Cup in South Korea between 20 May and 11 June. Alessandro Plizzari, 17, was named as one of three keepers, joining Udinese’s Samuele Perisan (19) and Pro Vercelli’s Andrea Zaccagno (19), meaning that he is ahead of curve. Whether he features or not is irrelevant here. The chance to experience a big youth tournament at this stage of his career and absorb what it means to make this next developmental leap will only help him stay hungry.
From his window, the architectural football wonderland that is San Siro is friendly on his blue eyes. Every morning, he takes a gander at its beauty and it gives him goosebumps. Maybe one day, when the bright lights are on and beaming down from the Milano night, his view will be much different than the one from the bench. Whether that comes inside a red and black shirt? Remains to be seen. Nevertheless, don’t forget the name, Alessandro Plizzari. The best is yet to come.
You can follow my football ramblings and various workings over on Twitter @Matt_Santangelo.