Gianluigi Donnarumma


Douglas Ramsey

June 13, 2021

Who is Gianluigi Donnarumma?

Gianluigi Donnarumma’s senior career began on October 25th, 2015, in a 2-1 victory against US Sassuolo. Siniša Mihajlović turned to the 16 years and 242 day old goalkeeper after a string of disappointing matches from the incumbent, Diego López.

Donnarumma’s inaugural start would be the second-youngest introduction of a goalkeeper in Italian football history (he was 13 days older than Giuseppe Sachi). Karim Laribi’s audacious volley would give the teenage goalie his first save of his senior career. This would be one of two memorable shots on target for Sassuolo all game, with the other being a Domenico Berardi free-kick that wrong-footed the debutant. 

However, in his first senior game, Donnarumma recorded his first senior win. The same week, he recorded his first clean sheet against ChievoVerona. By the turn of the year, he had confirmed his starting position over López, and in January 2016, less than a month before turning seventeen, he started and won the Derby della Madonnina 3-0. 

Four years later, the teenager has turned into a seasoned veteran of Serie A. Now, AC Milan will return to the Champions League after without their longest-tenured player. Paolo Maldini and Elliott Sports Management Fund have already replaced Donnarumma for the upcoming 2021/22 campaign with Mike Maignan. Without a contract and burning bridges left and right, the Italian national team starter needs to find a place to call home soon: almost certainly Paris Saint-German, it seems.

Ahead of his big next step, the question is, what has he become? His talent is evident, but what does he do that makes him so unique? What does signing him now, especially with Mino Raiola as an agent, entail? Can he hit the absolute peak of his potential? Luckily for the man called ‘Gigio,’ he still has many more years of development to adjust and grow his game.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's Style of Play



Statistically, Donnarumma’s shot-stopping resumé speaks for itself. Since the 2018/19 season, Donnarumma has saved a total of 12.0 post-shot goals above expected and continuously ranked in the top thirty goalies on the planet in post-shot goals saved above expected per 90 minutes (PSxG +/- per 90) year-over-year. 

That level of consistency puts him just below the absolute best goalies on the planet but still in an elite class of players. In addition, he was one of two goalies to place in the top thirty goalies based on PSxG +/- per 90 who are under the age of twenty-three. An impressive feat and one that speaks to his already fantastic results at a young age.

Credit: FBref / StatsBomb

There is no argument that Italy’s starting goalkeeper is a player that will make a sizable difference for any team; the key is to boost his consistency during contract years. His PSxG +/- per 90 fell by half in the last season, which is somewhat a cause of concern. Gigio saved 9.6 goals above expected in the prior two seasons and floated around a per 90 rate of 0.14, both elite measures. 

Nevertheless, his age 19 season stands out as his best to date. He thrived under Gennaro Gattuso’s reign as Milan focused more on shot prevention and tactical structure than in any other year of the clubs’ tumultuous fall from grace during the mid-to-late 2010s.

As a result, Donnarumman thrived the year before turning 20. While he put together a similarly impressive campaign the following season, helping him recapture his 2018/19 form should be a must for any potential new club of his.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's Shot-stopping abilities

Shot stopping is the attribute that makes a goalkeeping career, and it is Donnarumma’s best quality. Whether the shot is high and swerving towards the top corner or low and trying to find the side netting, the young Italian ‘keeper has a real chance to make the save. He uses his height, length and leg power to explode towards any shot around his goal. 

This lets him cover the vast majority of the goal and keeps him in position even after a deflection. He increases his ability to make a save through his elite positioning and game-reading skills. His height is an important tool, and he has learned how to make the most of every inch of his frame.

In a match last summer, post-lockdown, Gigio showed off his excellent reach when Diego Godín latched onto a corner and attempted to send the ball into the side netting. Instead of awkwardly committing himself forward, the Milan keeper backed into his goal, squared up to the shooter, and prepared for the flight of the ball.

This allowed Donnarumma to put himself in an active and explosive position to stop the header from the Uruguayan centre-back. That level of situational intelligence will prevent a number goals and provide a sense of comfort in most defences. Gianluigi is ready for shots to come at him because his positioning is sound.

What also helps is his six-foot-five body frame. He can reach further distances because he can leverage his astonishing height/length better than most. This advantage comes in handy, especially when facing shots like the one Godín took. A smaller ‘keeper may have missed this chance, but Donnarumma made the save to maintain parity because of his size.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Penalty Master

Donnarumma’s standout individual trait is his penalty-saving skill. Over the past year of top-five league football, he ranks in the 90th percentile for goalkeepers facing a spot-kick. However, in the 2019/20 season, Donnarumma saved four penalties, half the penalties he faced over the campaign. 

In the most recent campaign, he stopped a third of the shots that hit the target, a drop from his previous excellent run of form, but still impressive nonetheless. His success in these moments highlights what he does best, stopping shots. That is by far the most critical thing a ‘keeper can do, and he does it well.

Donnarumma focuses on tracking the leg movement of the penalty-taker instead of the hip placement. That allows him to read the direction of the shot better than most and gives him an edge in the spot-kick matchup. While he has made saves that require him to extend his entire body, he is more likely to almost pounce at the ball and try to direct his save into the ground and pop it out of the box. 

While this generally works, it can backfire as it did against US Lecce in October of 2019. Andrea Conti surrendered a penalty by heading a cross onto his arm, and when Khouma Babacar stepped up to slot in the penalty, Donnarumma denied him.

However, because he misjudged his parry, the ball fell back to Babacar, who tapped the ball into open net. That is just an example of how his shot-saving abilities can backfire but saving five of the eleven penalty shots against him over the course of two seasons is something any team would be happy about, especially Milan.

What does Gianluigi Donnarumma need to work on?

It’s easy to say that Donnarumma struggles to play the ball. Specific examples, especially his failed pass against UC Sampdoria that led to a goal against in 2019, show his still floundering ability to receive, control and distrubute in a co-ordinated manner to his team-mates with his feet. He attempts a small number of goal-kicks per season and rarely launches his attempts, often choosing safer passing options. 

Any team or fan expecting him to spray long-range passes that drastically open up the pitch will be disappointed by his more cautious distribution approach; that simply is not his way of playing the ball. 

Modern goalkeeping may require him to continue to develop this skill; however, he sorely lacks this ability at this stage of his career. That doesn’t mean he will never expand this skill, but as of now, he doesn’t possess many distribution skills other than trying to maintain a quick tempo. 

Donnarumma gets the ball out of his hands quickly and looks to push the play forward with regularity. Generally, he does this through throwing the ball but he can sometimes achieve this with fast short passes. This helps maintain intensity for the rest of the team, even if it is usually just a short pass out of the box.

Forecasting Gianluigi Donnarumma's Future Prospects

With his contract expiring, the 21-year-old is once again a free agent. Possibly led astray by agent Mino Raiola, the avenues for Donnarumma to join a super club have all but dried up, with every major team in the Champions League already having their goalkeeper departments in order.

This summer – one in which Donnarumma is starting for Roberto Mancini’s Italy, who have a strong chance of success, at EURO 2020 – certainly seems an odd time for his people to push him out of Milan. But it seems like they’ll get their move to PSG in the coming weeks.

There, he will be competing with Keylor Navas for a starting spot – one of the better goalkeepers across any elite league over recent seasons. There’s no doubt that Donnarumma will be seen as the 34-year-old’s long-term replacement, but the dynamic between the two in the short-to-medium term will be interesting. Coming from Milan, where he played a little under 20,000 league minutes across six seasons as the undisputed starter, into a potential situation where he’s rotated in and out of the team may be a difficult role for him to settle into.

This is a crucial juncture in Gigio’s career and may define the most vital section of his development as a player and a man, leaving his comfortable boyhood club for the big glamour club. Hopefully, he settles and stands out.

Gianluigi Donnarumma has a commanding six-foot-five-inch frame and leverages every last inch of reach at his disposal. He makes high-flying saves and has a pension to pick the ball out of the top corner of the goal. He combines explosive physical abilities with a great awareness of where to place himself in the goal frame. He rarely sets himself in the wrong location in the goal.

Donnarumma struggles to play the ball with his feet. He continuously opts for safer passes regularly and tends to turn over possession with goal kicks and passes out of his penalty area.