Forgive me if I paraphrase the great Irish poet, W.B.Yeats – “Romantic football is dead and gone. It’s with O’Leary in the grave”.
That negative thought is prompted by 18-year-old Milan and Italy goalkeeper, Gigio Donnarumma who, via his all-powerful agent Mino Raiola, last week formally declined to sign a new contract with his club. Once again, we ask that old question about club loyalty.
Have “one club” icons like Francesco Totti (Roma) and Paolo Maldini (Milan) become merely anachronistic throwbacks to an old-fashioned football world. Is there space for club loyalty in today’s world of agents, million-dollar contracts and multi-person transfer negotiations which make an EU Summit look like a Pony Club committee meeting by comparison?
Donnarumma’s current contract with Milan does not expire until June 28th, 2018. Understandably, Milan have been keen to sign a new contract with the player, widely regarded as one of the most promising young goalkeepers on the European scene. For at least one year now, Donnarumma has been the object of sustained speculation that Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United or some such major force were about to step in for a player widely regarded in Italy as both the logical and the worthy successor to Gigi Buffon in the Italy goal.
Milan were keen to nail down his commitment to the club for two obvious reasons. Firstly, he represents an ideal starting point on the Chinese-led road to rebuilding that would see Milan regain its lost place among the leading clubs in world football. Secondly, had the player signed a new contract then that would up the asking price for him down the road, were he to decide after all to leave Milan. For example, Milan could have inserted a recissionary clause in the new contract, along the lines of Gonzalo Higuain’s Napoli contract, which obliged Juventus to spill out €94 million euro for him last summer.
As it is, in the current uncertain situation, Donnarumma’s value has decreased given that any interested party can pick up the player this time next year on an out of contract, free transfer. That is as maybe. It could be that some club (Real or Man Utd., for example) may decide they want him now and jump in for him this summer.
That remains to be seen. As does it remain to be seen if a media speculated asking price of €30 million euro is anywhere close to the mark.
What needs little clarification, however, is the sense of Milan club and fan disappointment. When Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, led by Chinese businessmen Li Yonghong and Li Han, last April bought the club for €740 million, the new ownership immediately made it clear that they had ambitious plans. Part of those plans was to build a Champions League qualifying side which, in part at least, would be shaped around the formidable figure of Donnarumma, a player seemingly destined to become a long time club icon. To this end, Milan had offered Donnarumma a new five-year contract worth €5 million euro approx. per annum.
Donnarumma’s rejection of that lucrative contract changes the picture. Above all, it has sparked a veritable storm of fan protest via social media. Many fans have urged the club not to release Donnarumma but rather hold him to his contract, playing him in the club’s “primavera” youth team for all of next season.
Many have also recalled how he kissed his Milan team shirt after an excellent performance in a 2-1 defeat by champions Juventus last March. Remember that game ended with a controversial penalty-winner in the 97th minute from Juve’s Argentinian Paulo Dybala. This was a loss that weighed heavily with a Milan side which in the last 20 minutes had played with a sense of determination and self-belief, not always evident last season.
This had been one of those games when the young Milan keeper really had looked ready to step into the shoes of the man keeping goal down at the other end of the pitch, namely Buffon. This week, however, fans asked what it meant to Donnarumma to kiss his shirt.
One fan produced a photo-montage of Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Balotelli, Frenchman Paul Pogba and Donnarumma, all handled by Mino Raiola and all shown kissing the team jersey of a club that within months they would have left:
“There is no more useless gesture than kissing your jersey if your agent is Mino Raiola,” commented the fan bitterly
Another photo-montage showed Donnarumma’s “new” jersey, one bearing the club insignia of PSG, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, AS Roma, Olympique Lyonnais and others in a clear reference to the youngster’s potentially mercenary and unsettled future in the hands of agent Raiola.
Fans have marvelled at his “Judas-style” betrayal of the club which gave him his Serie A debut at the age of 16. They have also accused him of being a “greedy” 18-year-old, willing to reject a €5 million contract in expectation of something even larger.
In a sense, of course, there is nothing especially surprising about Donnarumma’s call. It is not today that we have understood that there is little “romance” in the modern, big money game. “Romantic football is dead and gone. It is with O’Leary in the grave.”