Ambitious AC Milan spent the off-season paying huge sums of money for top players, but their best piece of business might turn out to be securing Gianluigi Donnarumma on a long-term contract.
The teenage goalkeeper, who at just 18 already has 68 Serie A appearances behind him, looked poised to leave San Siro earlier in the summer as he threatened to shun a new deal and move on.
The situation was resolved in early July, but, ahead of Sunday’s season-opener at Crotone, Donnarumma accepts he will have to prove his loyalty to the club to the Rossoneri faithful.
While playing for Italy Under-21s at the underage European Championship in June, fans threw fake money at him and displayed a banner reading ‘Dollarumma’.
He told the Corriere della Sera: “I am 18 and the time had come to make an important decision about my career. I couldn’t get my head around it and wanted to wait until the end of the Euros.
“There were many bids for me at the time – I could have earned even more, but it was not a question of money. It was not an easy time.”
Donnarumma admitted he feared gloving up at San Siro for Thursday’s Europa League game against Shkendija, which Milan won 6-0.
“I was a bit worried,” he said. “I was afraid of a negative reaction from the fans and so was a bit pessimistic. Instead they were really good to me and welcomed me back.”
Donnarumma will be joined in Vincenzo Montella’s starting XI by the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Hakan Calhanoglu and Andre Silva – three of the standout captures in a remarkable window for Milan.
Like many onlookers the young keeper was taken aback by Bonucci’s move to Milan after seven years of success with fierce rivals Juventus.
Donnarumma added: “He has made a great impression on me. To be honest, when I heard he was coming here I was surprised, (directors Marco) Fassone and (Massimiliano) Mirabelli are doing some really good work. Leo will give us a real boost, and on an interpersonal level, too.”
Crotone also experienced a shock turn of events this year, with the southern minnows securing their Serie A survival on the last day of the season in May.
A 3-1 victory over Lazio earned them a second stab at the top flight – at the expense of Empoli – and their keeper Alex Cordaz is delighted to be among the big boys again as the new campaign begins.
He told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “It’s a great pleasure to face Milan straight away because it’s always good to play against such teams and it will charge us, and the city, with a lot of enthusiasm.
“Sooner or later we have to face them all.
“We know what the ingredients for staying up are: team-work, commitment and sacrifice.”