The last two months have been a whirlwind of excitement and optimism for AC Milan. From Yonghong Li finally completing his takeover of the club to four new signings arriving in a fortnight, everything was moving in a positive direction. Enter Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mino Raiola, who have opted to reject the Rossoneri‘s contract offer, and prove that loyalty in football is dead.
In Oct. 2015, the largely unknown 16-year-old was handed his Serie A debut by Milan, and to his credit, in the time that has passed since, he has proven his quality, class and maturity throughout his time as the first-choice goalkeeper.
With a lack of quality in the team around him, even this past season included, he continued to emerge as one of Milan’s star performers on a consistent basis and quickly established himself as a fan favourite and the possible face of the club for the next two decades.
If it weren’t for Milan and Sinisa Mihajlovic’s faith and confidence in Donnarumma two years ago, the teenager would still arguably be sitting in the youth team. Combine that with how he has expressed his desire to stay, his attachment to Milan and the offer that was put on the table for him this summer and his decision is truly shocking.
Naturally, every Milan supporter would have wanted him to stay. However, as the weeks have gone by and both he and his agent have continued to delay the answer before finally delivering one this week, Donnarumma has essentially done irreparable damage to his relationship with the club he professed to love so dearly.
From Milan’s perspective, the new management couldn’t have done any more than they did. CEO Marco Fassone revealed that the contract offer on the table was more than what was reported by the Italian media, Donnarumma had the opportunity to be an icon at the club and there is serious work being done this summer to make the Rossoneri a force again.
However, all that was clearly not enough. Unsurprisingly, Raiola has received a significant amount of criticism and abuse for his role in this, and he can’t be left out of this situation. How else can an 18-year-old living his dream reach such a decision?
Nevertheless, one man makes the final decision, and as Fassone alluded to in the hastily arranged news conference on Thursday, it was Donnarumma who made the decision to not renew and so ultimately it falls on him.
The reaction hasn’t been kind, and that’s to be expected. However, no player is bigger than the club and so Milan will move on in a positive manner from this, especially with the likes of Fassone and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli at the helm, a duo that haven’t put a single foot wrong since they arrived.
It does raise an important question now though. What do Milan do with Donnarumma? The shot-stopper has 12 months remaining on his current contract, so should he be sold immediately, should they continue to play him and let his deal run down or should he be made to sit in the stands next season?
Ultimately, it’s difficult to see the teenager putting on a Milan shirt again. From the outrage that it would spark from supporters at the San Siro next season to it making no sense given his desire to move on, that option can be ruled out.
In truth, there is a desire to see him in the stands next season to mull over the disrespect and lack of loyalty that he has shown to Milan. However, Fassone and Mirabelli will undoubtedly make the best decision for the club, and that has to be to sell him this summer and reinvest the funds gained.
Fresh from his heroics at the Under-20 World Cup earlier this month, Alessandro Plizzari has been tipped to be a future star. Perhaps Milan show the same faith in him that they did with Donnarumma and unearth another possible gem? It’s unlikely in truth, as a new face arriving will surely be the most sensible conclusion.
Further, selling him this summer could give Milan the financial muscle needed to chase their top targets. Andrea Belotti has been heavily linked with a move this summer, and so perhaps selling Donnarumma could be a way of bringing him to the San Siro ahead of next season.
All in all, there is a real sadness and feeling of shock and anger after Thursday’s announcement. Donnarumma will be missed as his quality on the pitch and his emergence as one of our own made him a special talent and individual. However, it has to be reiterated that no player is bigger than Milan, so good riddance after this decision as the Rossoneri must, and will, move on.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.