Devil’s Advocate: How Milan should prepare for life without Gianluigi Donnarumma
By Oliver Fisher -

We’ve all seen the headlines over the past few months pertaining to the fact that Gianluigi Donnarumma’s future at AC Milan is once again at a crossroads.

Just like back in 2017, Milan are once again fighting what feels like a losing battle. With his contract set to expire in 2021, the Rossoneri must find a way to renew his deal before summer or they will sell him – as per most outlets – to avoid the risk of losing him for free in a year’s time.

Many reports have suggested that the situation regarding a renewal is bleak too, as CEO Ivan Gazidis wants to impose a salary cap which is well below that of the €6m-a-year Donnarumma currently earns.

This is where the first part of the dilemma comes into play for Milan. If they sell Donnarumma, then fans will be angry; they don’t want to see such a promising young player who is already one of the best in world in his position leave the club where he grew up and came through the academy. Moreover, it would be a damning reflection on the club’s project.

However, there must also be the case that even if some exceptions are to be made to Gazidis’ alleged €2.5m per year per player salary cap, those exceptions cannot be more than double the limit because it sets a dangerous precedent that weakens the club’s negotiating position with other signings.

Milan supporters must also respect that the time may have come for Gigio to flee the nest in order to go and win the major honours that he deserves to compete for, trophies that the Diavolo currently cannot.

It’s not the end of the world though. Preparations were made back in 2017 when it seemed almost certain that Donnarumma would leave as an 18-year-old, and plans will be in place again.

While the consensus that goalkeepers are the least important position on the pitch is sometimes used, it would be incredibly naive to overlook the amount of points that Gigio has saved Milan over his 190 games in all competitions.

That doesn’t mean that he isn’t irreplaceable though. Sure, for some the attachment to Donnarumma and his relationship with the fans will be unique and difficult to replicate, but there is the argument that Milan could actually pull off an excellent bit of business if done right.

If the Rossoneri hierarchy can command a decent fee for the 21-year-old, who despite his contract situation still has a good market value due to the many teams interested, then it will be a pure capital gain which is excellent for the club’s dreadful financial health.

In addition to that, his salary will be off the books as will that of his brother Antonio in all likelihood (€1m-a-year), and Pepe Reina’s €3m-a-year is also expected to be shifted.

Back in June 2017 when Donnarumma looked set to leave the first time around, we actually wrote about how Alessandro Plizzari – despite being just a teenager himself at the time – could become Milan’s new knight in shining armour, and it was around that time he penned a new contract to show his commitment to the club when Gigio seemingly wouldn’t.

Three years on an opportunity may present itself for the patient Plizzari, who is on loan at Serie B’s bottom club Livorno this season and hasn’t enjoyed the best of spells, though it must also be noted that his defence doesn’t seem to be giving him much help.

It would be reckless to assume though that the 20-year-old could be thrown straight in at the deep end just as Gigio was and achieve the same results. It is probably wiser to keep Plizzari as either a second or even third choice going into next season, but being in and around the senior squad will be hugely beneficial.

So the question then becomes simple: who replaces Donnarumma? There are options domestically for certain such as Napoli’s Alex Meret, Udinese’s Juan Musso and the Juventus-owned Mattia Perin – all of whom are good shot-stoppers in their own right but aren’t yet at an elite level.

Meret is the most sensible choice of these three because he has fallen out of favour under Gennaro Gattuso, and it would allow Milan to deal with their former manager and possibly insert a counterpart into the deal like Ricardo Rodriguez to keep to pot of money earned from Donnarumma’s sale mostly intact.

There are options abroad of course, but at 23 years of age Meret has shown plenty of promise and even looks set to rival Donnarumma for the honour of being Italy’s No.1 goalkeeper in years to come.

In terms of a new back-up, the answer may already be in the squad. Asmir Begovic joined on loan from Bournemouth in January and impressed hugely on debut against Fiorentina, and given that he earns just €1m-a-year (based on the €500k he will earn for his six months at Milan), he is a much more reasonable number two than Reina in an economic sense, and he would provide top-level experience with which he can mentor the youth.

An interesting hypothesis may also be that of OGC Nice keeper Walter Benitez, whose deal expires in June and funnily enough is represented by Mino Raiola. The 27-year-old Argentine has let in 39 goals in 29 games across all competitions this season, and as part of agreeing to Donnarumma’s sale, Milan may be able to strike an agreement with Raiola to bring Benitez in on a free somehow.

Front to back, on and off the pitch, it appears that the Rossoneri are set for another revolution this summer. While it would be painful to see Donnarumma leave and not be part of a potential revival, he shouldn’t be begrudged of wanting to better himself and refusing to take a pay cut, when in reality he has earned the opposite.

The important thing now is to try and make things work for everyone, so Gigio’s legacy could be one that allows Milan to strengthen in other areas. And who knows, sometimes chickens come home to roost down the line.

 

Tags AC Milan Gianluigi Donnarumma