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SCOUT REPORT: The Case For Buying Gianluigi Donnarumma

An in-depth scout report on the most exciting young goalkeeper in world football.

FC Torino v AC Milan - Serie A
Gigi Donnarumma
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Lucas provided 3 arguments in his article for why Real should go after Gigi, but those who haven't been following Milan in the last 2 seasons might be wondering what kind of goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma is. I hope this article will provide you that.

Keylor Navas hasn't been the same goalkeeper we saw last season. He has been largely inconsistent, his positioning and decision-making have been far from optimal, and he has made a number of mistakes that has costed us precious points. And if you add to this the fact that he turned 30 in December, you can almost say for sure that Real Madrid's management is scouting for a new goalkeeper. In the last few months, we have seen a few goalkeepers linked with a move to Real Madrid - Thibaut Courtois, David De Gea, and Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Personally I do believe that Donnarumma would not only be the easiest to sign, but also the best choice for Real Madrid, if you consider all the factors.

Why Would Donnarumma Be Easier to Sign Than Courtois or DDG?

Donnarumma's youth contract is going to expire in June 2018 and he is yet to sign a professional contract with Milan. So if he doesn't sign the contract and they want to cash in on him, they would have to do it this summer. But why is he stalling? Well, Milan are in a bit of an institutional crisis. In the summer of 2016, Silvio Berlusconi agreed to sell Milan to Sino-Europe Sports, which is a Chinese consortium. However, due to many issues, the takeover hasn’t been completed and the final date of takeover is being pushed further and further down the road. (For more detailed coverage, I suggest checking out AC Milan's blog on SBNation - they have in-depth articles on this subject)

Donnarumma's agent is the infamous Mino Raiola. And he was quite open with reporters in the past. He basically said that the renewal is down to success of the takeover. He will talk to the new management about the contract, but who knows if there will be new management. And since he is Mino Raiola, we can always expect at least one big move, so that he can cash in on his client as he did with Pogba.

Until you see the new ownership and I begin to talk to them, I cannot have a clear idea....

Does he deserve a great Milan? No, he deserves a great team. I'm not married to anyone, my job is not to be a fan of a team.

While it's no secret that Florentino Perez isn't best friends with Raiola, Florentino surely wouldn’t dismiss an excellent deal just because of a player’s agent.

Donnarumma’s Strengths

The first thing that you will notice about Donnarumma is his impressive physical frame. He's 1.96m (6'5”) tall and weighs 90kg. In the last year, he has gained a lot of muscle mass and you can tell that he has matured a lot since his debut season.

One of his most noticeable strengths are his reflexes and shot stopping. He routinely pulls off magnificent and crucial saves. One of the keys to his great shot shopping ability is his positioning. He is well aware of his position in relation to the ball and his goal. Because he's aware of his physical advantages, he comes out quickly and he makes himself big to close down shooting angles.

Another key to his impressive shot stopping ability is his anticipation. He almost always correctly judges the trajectory of the ball and is able to deal with close deflections from defenders/forwards. His tall frame helps him cover a large portion of the goal and he can reach almost anywhere. But despite his height, he's very agile and can go down on the floor very quickly, which is notoriously difficult for most tall keepers.

Here are some of his saves from this season (apart from the last one) to showcase his ability:

Donnarumma, thanks to his impressive physique, easily dominates his penalty box. He isn't afraid to come out and challenge any ball that comes into the box, but when he is dealing with crosses, he tends to punch the ball more often than he should. On the one hand, he can punch the ball very far, but on the other hand, he must strike the ball cleanly or he'll risk creating a dangerous situation. Claiming crosses is an underrated skill and it is hard to learn. It took David De Gea 2 seasons at United to become decent in this aspect.

However, Donnarumma has improved a lot in this aspect. He is more confident when he's challenging for the ball and the ball doesn't slip easily from his hand. And it also shows in his stats (although we must be wary, since goalkeeping stats are in still in very early stages of development). His number of punches p90 is down 50% and number of claims p90 is up 62% from the last season.

Another attribute that I deem as crucial, is his penalty stopping, because it's a must-have ability for any goalkeeper in top clubs. A saved penalty can inspire a team to an impossible comeback or lead the team to a victory as we saw last season in May. Donnarumma hasn't faced a lot of penalties in his Milan career so far, but he has an impressive percentage of saved penalties this season and also in total. This season he has faced 8 penalties and has saved 4 of them. If we look at his career data, he has faced 12 penalties and has saved 5 of them. It's an excellent statistic for such a young goalkeeper.

He doesn't jump too early, but he rather waits and tries to get into the head of the penalty taker. If you look at his unsaved penalty kicks, he usually guesses the correct side.

Here are his saved penalties from this season:

Donnarumma’s Weaknesses

However, it must be said that Donnarumma isn't without any weaknesses. His most frequently mentioned weakness is his passing ability and ability to play the ball out of from the back. Nowadays, every player must become more complete than they used to be in the past. Defenders are required to handle high pressing from forwards and they must be able to pick the correct passes (vertical or lateral) to help progress play. And even goalkeepers are now told to have decent/good passing ability to help out the team.

Donnarumma is well aware of his passing limitation and the increasing importance of this skill for goalkeepers. He has repeatedly stated that he is constantly working on that in training.

June 2016

One thing to improve? Playing with the ball at my feet. While I like my calm demeanour, on the pitch it’s important that I manage the game not like a 17-year-old, but with maturity.

January 2017

I have done better than last year with the ball at my feet, working hard on that in training. When the opponent runs at me, I can sometimes dribble away.

Being good with your feet is important in modern football. I try to imitate Manuel Neuer, who practically acts as the fifth defender when starting moves.”

Donnarumma has improved his passing a lot this season, but it's still far from perfect. When he's given time and space, he can deliver accurate balls. However, if he's being pressed by forwards, he tends to take too many touches, which puts him under more pressure. That often leads to rushed actions, which can result in him giving the ball away or him playing passes that put his teammates under pressure.

However, stats support the premise that he is getting more confident with the ball. His % of successful passes has gone up by 8% to 73% and he takes and completes more passes than last season. Although it must be said that his average pass length is low, so it suggests that he mostly passes to centre backs and the eye-test confirms that.

Donnarumma clearly looks up to Manuel Neuer and he does try similar things like Neuer. When Milan is in possession, he stays higher and tries to snuff out any long balls. He reads the game quite well and he is very brave and quick to come off his line. He is usually on time with his tackles outside the penalty box. He does sometimes make miscalculations, but that's part the deal with sweeper keepers. No one is infallible. So far he has displayed very encouraging signs that he might be able to excel in a sweeper-keeper role.

Donnarumma Can Handle the Pressure

Another frequent argument against his signing is his young age, with people asking the question “Can an 18 year-old handle the boos?”

Well let's have a look.

Donnarumma made his first team debut in summer 2015 at the International Champions Cup against .... Real Madrid. And it will surely be a source of fond memories for him. He managed to save Toni Kroos' penalty on his debut (16yrs old).

Even though Milan's days of glory are long gone, they are still a big club in Italy with sizeable fanbase who are very passionate about the club. And Donnnarumma has played a lot of game for them - 59 to be precise. Those played games and experience at such young age are extremely rare and invaluable and it has also helped to toughen him up (oh and just a side note: Donnarumma broke Paolo Maldini's record of games played for a player younger than 18).

Donnarumma is a key piece of Milan's defense and he's the reason why Milan are still fighting for a European spot. The defense in front of him is in shambles. Only Romagnoli is a good defender and that's not enough. So unsurprisingly, Donnarumma has made more saves (111) than any other goalkeeper in the top 5 leagues this season. He isn't the sort of goalkeeper that is hidden behind a great defense and we can only speculate how good he is. He is time and time again exposed by his defenders and yet he still maintains his impressive level. With Milan in defensive shambles, Donnarumma has filled the leadership vacuum by communicating and organizing his defense on a regular basis (an underrated skill for a goalkeeper).

X-Factor: Big Game Performances

Gigi produces some of his best performances in the big games. In December he led Milan to their first trophy in 5 years against Juventus. He made a couple of excellent saves throughout the night and then topped that with a decisive save on Dybala's decisive penalty in a shootout, leading Milan to the Italian Supercup.

And when Milan met Juventus again last Friday (10.3.), he produced yet another absolutely stunning performance.

If Donnarumma Does Come, Should We Sell Navas?

No. I know that Donnarumma is capable of handling the pressure and spotlight of Real Madrid's no.1, but I always advise caution. I would keep Navas and play him in La Liga and UCL in the first season. And at the beginning, Donnarumma would play in the Copa del Rey and in 5-10 games in La Liga and in any other Cup. I think it's a good way to ease him in; something similar to how FC Barcelona handled Ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo. In the next season, Madrid could shift more responsibility Donnarumma’s way, while slowly phasing out Navas to the role of Copa del Rey goalkeeper.

Concluding Thoughts

Donnarumma would give us almost 15 years of excellent goalkeeping. And his trajectory and his accomplishments suggest that he might be the next great goalkeeper like Casillas/Buffon/Neuer.

We musn't hesitate to buy him, because there are clubs that are looking at him as we speak. Juventus is clearly one of those clubs. Buffon is in the twilight of his career and Juventus traditionally buy all the major talented players in Italy. Bayern might be looking at him also, even though Manuel Neuer isn't old exactly - soon to be 31 and he doesn't look like he's about to decline massively any time soon. However, Bayern has a smart management and they might want to secure him like they did with Renato Sanches.

And that brings me to another point. Nowadays top clubs aren't battling for proven stars. You see very little movement of those world class stars from one top club to another. No, the battle has shifted to those young prospects. Why? With the influx of money from TV deals (English Premier League), it's harder for clubs like Bayern/Juve/Madrid/Barcelona to lure star players from top clubs or British clubs, because they already are on royal wages. Rummenigge admitted so:

I recently talked to Florentino Perez, the Real [Madrid] president, and to [AC] Milan CEO Adriano Galliani. We agreed that England poses a great threat to all other European Leagues.

That's why clubs are trying to secure these elite prospects as soon as possible, because if they don't, they might not have a chance to buy them later -> Martial, Renato Sanches, Sterling, Sané, etc.

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