Never before had a goalkeeper been named Player of the Tournament at a European Championships before Gianluigi Donnarumma was handed the award on the back of his eye-catching performances for Italy at Euro 2020. But then, the 22-year-old isn’t a typical goalkeeper. He is exceptional.
Indeed, Donnarumma is widely considered among the best goalkeepers in the game right now. He boasts an incredible level of experience for someone so young having performed at the top of the sport since his teenage years. This is why Paris Saint-Germain’s capture of Donnarumma as a free agent this summer was so notable.
Of course, the 2021 summer transfer window also saw Lionel Messi pitch up at the Parc des Princes, but many argued with solid justification that Donnarumma’s signing would be of greater significance for PSG in the long-term. After all, when has a team ever won a major honour at the elite level of European soccer without a top quality goalkeeper between the posts?
However, Donnarumma’s first few months in the French capital have been the subject of much discussion. While the Italian reported later than most for pre-season due to his involvement in Euro 2020, most assumed that he would ultimately assume the position as Mauricio Pochettino’s first-choice goalkeeper after a few matches. This, however, hasn’t happened.
Pochettino has instead continued stuck with Keylor Navas as his number one. Donnarumma has been rotated in and out of the team, but when it matters most Navas is still seen as PSG’s best option. This raises the question - why was Donnarumma signed in the first place if his primary role is as a bench warmer?
“It has no influence on my performance, but it disturbs me,” Donnarumma admitted while on international duty with Italy when asked about a lack of playing time at club level this season. “It's not easy since I'm used to starting every game, and being on the bench may be painful at times. However, I am confident that the problem will be fixed.”
PSG sporting director Leonardo has also sought to publicly play down Donnarumma’s lack of playing time this season, stating the belief that the Italian will be an important figure for the Ligue 1 outfit, but the longer the 22-year-old sits on the bench, the more there will be discussion around his future. One wonders if Leonardo privately disagrees with his manager’s decision to stick with Navas.
Speculation is already swirling with Chelsea reportedly monitoring Donnarumma’s situation having been long-term admirers of the Italian. Manchester United could also move for Donnarumma who won Goalkeeper of the Year at this week's Ballon d’Or ceremony, although David de Gea’s strong recent form could see them prioritise other targets. Nonetheless, if the 22-year-old is on the market there will be no shortage of suitors.
Of course, Navas is a top tier goalkeeper in his own right. He is proven at the top of the European game over a number of seasons. PSG are fortunate to have two exceptional goalkeeping options in Donnarumma and Navas, but the decision to favour the latter over the former is a confusing one. Like so much at the Parc des Princes right now, it might have politics at its core.
Was Donnarumma a player Pochettino truly wanted at PSG or was the Italian lured to the club by Leonardo, who already knew the goalkeeper from his time at AC Milan? Is it the case that Pochettino prefers Navas for what he offers with the ball at his feet? Or is the PSG boss reluctant to break up a defensive unit that is already accustomed to having the Costa Rican behind them?
In other positions, PSG can get away with rotating several options in and out of the team. In midfield, for instance, Pochettino has the depth to change tact depending on the task at hand. There is, however, a different dynamic when it comes to goalkeepers. Consistency and familiarity is required for players in this position to perform at their best.
Whatever the reason for Donnarumma’s difficult start to life at PSG, it’s clear that this situation can’t continue for much longer. The 22-year-old is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and has the trophies to prove it. The Parc des Princes bench isn’t a suitable platform for a player of his undeniable quality and pedigree.