Gianluigi Donnarumma is a teenaged, homegrown superstar-in-the-making who plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world, AC Milan. In terms of fan adoration, these facts should put him somewhere on the spectrum between “Spurs fans who’d let Harry Kane make love to their mothers if it would make him just a little bit happier on any given day” and “Barcelona fans currently checking the Catalan constitution to see if a foreign-born, 30-year-old athlete will qualify for the country’s presidency if/when their independence movement succeeds.”
This was more or less the case for Donnarumma and Milan fans not that long ago, back before a painful summer of stunted contract renewal talks and unceasing transfer rumors soured the fan-player relationship—though it appeared all was well after the keeper did in fact sign a new contract with the club. However, just recently Donnarumma has once again lost all that goodwill in record speed. Which has made him very sad.
Milan and their new, purportedly rich owners spent lots and lots of money this offseason in an effort to get the club back to the elite. Hopes were high that new additions like Leonardo Bonucci and André Silva and the others brought in in the summer transfer window, coupled with the newly committed Donnarumma, would immediately return the Rossoneri at least to the Champions League places and maybe even to something of a title challenge. Instead, the team has struggled.
Milan currently sit in seventh place in the Serie A table, 16 points back from first, 11 points outside the fourth and final Champions League spot. The club fired its manager not even halfway through the season and replaced him with club legend and known nutcase—to say nothing of his wildly unsuccessful and volatile managerial career—Gennaro Gattuso. All the while, the allegedly rich new owners don’t actually appear to be as rich as fans were led to believe.
Into this already toxic environment, Donnarumma has dumped even more sewage. Reports in Italy claim Donnarumma and his agent, the infamous Mino Raiola, have written a letter to the Milan board demanding that the new contract he signed in the summer be legally voided. According to these reports, Donnarumma’s letter said that the player re-signed with the team—after at first saying he’d play out the final remaining year of his contract and become a free agent in the summer of 2018—only because the club put him under extreme psychological pressure to do so. On top of that, the letter purportedly said the transfer release clauses—which media reports at the time said would stand at either €40 million or €70 million, depending on whether Milan qualified for the Champions League—the two parties negotiated were never registered with the league by Milan and thus were not valid.
All this talk about Donnarumma wanting out again, this time with Donnarumma allegedly trying to get out of the very contract that had patched things back up between the fans and him, predictably enraged the Milanistas. This weekend, the first Milan match since the news came out, the home fans unfurled this banner to express their anger. Translation: “Psychological violence for 6 million annually and signing your parasite brother? Now is time to leave, our patience is up!”
In addition to the banner—which referred to Donnarumma’s fat new contract and the club’s signing of his older, not-very-good brother to serve as one of the team’s backup keepers—the crowd rained lusty boos on their former favorite son before, during, and after the match. The following video shows some of the pregame booing as well as team captain Bonucci attempting to console an obviously emotional Donnarumma while the two were in the locker room:
Gattuso was also on hand to lend a teary-eyed Donnarumma support after the match as the player came off the pitch and acknowledged the crowd:
Today, Donnarumma kicked off his attempted cleanup operation with an Instagram post. iDonnarumma denied the reports that he wrote a letter to the club claiming “psychological pressure” as justification for nullifying the contract, and attempted to move on from this messy business:
Translation: “It was an awful night and I didn’t expect it! I never said nor wrote that I had suffered psychological pressure when I signed the contract. Despite everything I am looking forward and have my mind on the next game ... forza milan!”
To further appease fans, another report says Donnarumma and his family are contemplating cutting ties with Raiola because of how everything’s gone down. Raiola is a little bit like Italy’s answer to Scott Boras, an agent to the stars who is beloved by his clients who know he will do anything for them yet is widely detested by clubs and fans for his ruthless way of getting his players the big contracts and transfers they want. The thinking has been that Raiola was the Svengali behind Donnarumma’s agitations for more money and, if a fat new contract didn’t come about, a big-money move to Real Madrid or Juventus.
This kind of thinking is usually little more than an easy narrative concocted by fans to, in their minds, absolve players from moral responsibility for their prioritization of their individual economic interests above all else. That is probably closer to the case here than not. Donnarumma reportedly considered this same move back in the summer, before eventually coming out in support of Raiola and eventually re-signing with Milan. However, if Donnarumma does actually fire his agent this time around, it’ll probably prove an effective resetting of his relationship with the Milan faithful.
Ultimately, this whole ordeal is kind of silly. Donnarumma is an exceptional keeper with an impossibly bright future. Milan should feel lucky he’s been willing to stay in town for this long, and they can blame no one other than themselves should they fail to surround him with a squad of players worthy of his own talent and push him towards pastures new. Donnarumma, meanwhile, should try to make a decision and own up to it. Of course he’s only a teen, so his indecision should be understandable and forgivable. Raiola has definitely handled this poorly, as it’s never good to turn a sensitive, beloved, 18-year-old client into a pariah with the same set of fans, but he’s usually just doing what his clients think is best. And the team’s fans need to come to grips with the fact that just because the club’s name is AC Milan doesn’t mean they are still AC Milan. All parties involved bear some responsibility for things getting to this stage.
Still, the underlying facts of the situation has never changed. Either Milan get good in a hurry or Donnarumma is out. There’s just no need for this reality to have been accompanied with such melodrama.