GRAMiorgio Chiellini took the mug to bed with him on Sunday night. Well, it would be more accurate to say Monday morning. The captain of Italy insisted that he was only continuing a tradition established by Fabio Cannavaro after the Azzurri won the World Cup in 2006, but had been reluctant to lose sight of the Henri Delaunay Cup after Italy defeated England in the final of Euro 2020.
When it was time to leave Wembley Stadium, Chiellini placed the trophy on the front seat of the Italian team bus and huddled next to it. But then Gianluigi Donnarumma came on board. “Giorgione! [Big Giorgio]”Said the Italy goalkeeper. “Will you let me have it for a couple of minutes?”
How could I say no? It was Donnarumma who sealed Italy’s victory on Sunday, saving consecutive penalties from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka in the deciding shoot-out. Minutes later, he was named UEFA Player of the Tournament.
While they wondered in England about the advisability of allowing a 19-year-old to shoot a penalty in a final, Italy marveled at the 22-year-old who refused it. Donnarumma didn’t even celebrate at first, walking away with the nonchalant arrogance of a man who had been here and done this before.
Maybe it was because he had. Five nights earlier, on the same goal at Wembley, Donnarumma denied Álvaro Morata to put Italy on track to the final. These were the fourth and fifth penalty shootouts he has participated in so far in his senior career, and he has won each and every one of them.
Not that avoiding pitches from the point of view is the sum of Donnarumma’s contribution. He made a series of spectacular saves throughout Euro 2020, from the double stop against Steven Zuber of Switzerland in the group stage to a point-blank block by Spaniard Dani Olmo in the semi-final. Former Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga called his long jump to deny Belgian Kevin De Bruyne “a perfect display of technique”.
At the time, Donnarumma believed it was the most important save of his career. His efforts against Spain and England must at least have matched him. And we haven’t talked about its distribution yet. It was Donnarumma who launched the attack that led to Italy’s goal against Spain, quickly passing the ball to Marco Verratti while his opponents were out of position.
Who could have imagined that Italy would find a worthy heir to Gianluigi Buffon so quickly? Donnarumma used to hang posters of his predecessor on the walls of his room as a child growing up in Pompeii. They even share a first name, although the young man is called “Gigio” instead of “Gigi”.
He has no illusions about matching his idol. Buffon made a record 176 appearances for Italy and won a World Cup. “No, he’s the strongest of all, number one,” Donnarumma said when asked if there could be any comparison. “He is still the greatest of all.”
Still, 33 caps and a European Championship at 22 are extraordinary enough. So is the ability to keep your nerves while going through one of the most difficult times of your career. Donnarumma leaves Milan to join Paris Saint-Germain this summer, a move that has made him a public enemy to many fans.
“I’ve been very calm,” Donnarumma said Sunday. “My teammates have stayed close, and I put all that aside. My head was purely at the service of the team and the boss. In the end, that approach paid off. “
Yet he cried full-time on Sunday, and while many teammates did the same, it was tempting to wonder if there was an element of his own journey to those tears. Milan was his childhood club and leaving also means separating from his goalkeeping coach, Nélson Dida, the other player whose poster used to occupy those walls next to Buffon’s.
How much did Italy benefit from the Brazilian’s work this summer? Dida himself was a great pain stopper, and some pearls of wisdom were undoubtedly passed on. But Donnarumma has many impressive mentors in his day, including Buffon himself with the national team. Italy’s substitute goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu was the last person to speak in his ear before the penalty shoot-out against England, a player who started four seasons at PSG.
Then of course it helps to play behind a central defensive pair like Italy. “I want to thank [Leonardo] Bonucci and Chiellini, ”Donnarumma said when informed of his Uefa award. “It is thanks to them that I won.”
Juventus’ defenders had been through quite a bit of headaches in this competition, starting together when Italy was beaten 4-0 by Spain in the final of Euro 2012 and again when they were eliminated by Germany on penalties four years later. They have won the league together eight times at Juventus (Bonucci missed the 2017-18 title and spent a season in Milan), but neither could validate that national success with something bigger.
Perhaps they were the ones who needed Donnarumma. “Despite being behind, we were always in charge of the game,” Chiellini said full time. “Then for penalties we had Gigione. We go from Gigi to Gigio! “
Donnarumma knows she would have to earn vastly more to have her name spoken with the same reverence as Buffon’s. However, helping Italy win their first European Championship in 53 years is a good starting point.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism