Donnarumma in Italy ignores whistles and counterfeit money to set records | Euro 2020
As Italy claimed their 11th consecutive victory under Roberto Mancini, a rare note of disapproval was heard in the stands. The whistles in the 89th minute of Sunday’s victory over Wales at Stadio Olimpico weren’t aimed at the manager or even his side, but rather at their 22-year-old keeper.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was heading towards the canoe, exiting the game to be replaced by Salvatore Sirigu. Mancini, who cites never appearing at a World Cup among his biggest career regrets, wanted to make sure his substitute goalkeeper had at least a few minutes on the pitch in what could be his last international tournament.
Donnarumma hadn’t done much wrong during the game. He hadn’t done much at all. There was just one direct save from a Joe Rodon header, and impressive composure shown when Aaron Ramsey came through early in the second half. Donnarumma faced the Welsh player at his near post and allowed defenders to recover.
The supporters who whistled – a minority, it must be said – were not protesting against his performance but against the choices that led him to break his contract at Milan and set out to join Paris St-Germain this summer . Supporters of the Rossoneri feel betrayed by Donnarumma, a graduate of their club’s academy.
Accusations of greed are not new. Donnarumma was thrown fake banknotes during an Italy Under-21 game in Krakow four years ago after his agent Mino Raiola told Milan he was not interested to renew his contract. Although the player eventually changed his mind, until this summer some injuries never fully healed.
Even so, it was striking to hear those grievances encroaching on an otherwise idyllic Italian start to Euro 2020 (they face Austria in the round of 16 on Saturday after winning all three of their group matches). Closest to disharmony elsewhere was Nicolò Barella liquidating his old friend Manuel Locatelli by throwing bandages him on the bench.
The importance of Donnarumma for the national team is indisputable. Mancini has repeatedly insisted that he sees all 26 of his squad as starters, but the goalkeeper is one of only three – alongside Jorginho and Leonardo Bonucci – to have actually started each match.
He didn’t concede in his final 874 minutes played for Italy – the third longest streak in national team history. It’s a shared feat, made possible by the dominating performances of Donnarumma’s teammates. He has only needed to make two saves in this tournament so far.
Italy has found a new model for achieving defensive excellence with which the country has often – if not always rightly – been associated. Mancini’s side keep the ball away from Donnarumma’s goal by dictating play at the top of the pitch, occupying their opponents’ halves with possession and a coordinated high press, led from the front by Ciro Immobile or Andrea Belotti.
Yet the system still relies on a defense that knows how to react when opponents break through. Leonardo Spinazzola’s extravagant recovery speed is a boon, allowing him to bombard forward and rejoin the attack from the left-back position, while the Italian right-back folds back. sliding challenge to preserve the clean sheet against Turkey, celebrated with as much enthusiasm as a goal.
Yet Bonucci is the only defender Mancini has so far refused to do without. The Juventus player has always offered a superior distribution from the full-back, and his relationship with Donnarumma is also strong. He was playing for Milan in 2017, when the keeper’s reluctance to sign a new contract led fans to target him for the first time.
Bonucci was seen comforting Donnarumma in one of his lowest moments, with the then teenager crying in the changing rooms at San Siro ahead of a game against Verona. He had been targeted by ultras with a banner ordering him to hurry and leave, defining his brother – also a goalkeeper in the Milan books – as a “parasite”.
“Something wrong came out that really hurt me,” Donnarumma told Milan TV years later. “Bonucci consoled me at that point and told me not to pay attention to it… He helped me a lot.”
Years have passed and the context has changed. Donnarumma passed his medical exam at PSG last week. With Italy’s way to the Euro 2020 final passing through London and Munich, he might not play another game in his home country for a while.
In any case, he did not seem confused by these whistles in Rome. Donnarumma is focused on extending his invincibility. To beat the record held by Dino Zoff, he would have to hold out until the last minute of the semi-final. “I’ll be happy if he does,” Zoff said this week. “It would mean that we have reached the final”.
As a collective, Italy could claim the record even earlier. Donnarumma missed two friendlies in the current winning round, in which Sirigu, Alessio Cragno and Alex Meret kept two more clean sheets. That means Mancini’s side didn’t concede a goal for 1,055 minutes – just 88 minutes from Zoff’s mark.
The World Cup winner celebrated his 79th birthday in February, but believes that “even I could have played in the goals of the Italy team which beat Turkey”. Donnarumma hasn’t needed to do much more in the two games since. Italy made victory easy at Euro 2020. There will be more to overcome than a few angry whistles as they make their way to the knockout stage.