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Why Milan fans don't want Donnarumma to face Juventus in vital top-four clash

08:00 BST 07/05/2021
Gianluigi Donnarumma Paolo Maldini AC Milan Serie A 2020-21
The boyhood Rossoneri fan is one of the world's best goalkeepers, but he is out of contract this summer and being linked with a move to Turin

Gianluigi Donnarumma considers Pepe Reina one of his closest friends in football.

So, after AC Milan's 3-0 loss at Lazio on April 26, the two goalkeepers walked to the centre of the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico, stopped, chatted, swapped shirts and shared a laugh.

However, some Rossoneri supporters were incensed by this seemingly innocuous display of sportsmanship. There was an immediate online backlash. And it did not stop there.

Last Saturday morning, a group of Milan ultras turned up at the club's training ground to speak with Donnarumma.

During the confrontation that followed, he was criticised for enjoying a moment of levity after his team had endured a heavy defeat.

Donnarumma was also urged to extend a contract that expires this summer – and to do so immediately.

Or, at the very least, before this weekend's Serie A showdown with Juventus.

With Milan and Juve level on points with third-placed Atalanta, and Napoli just two further back in fifth, the game in Turin will have a massive bearing on who finishes the season in the top four.

Donnarumma's decision on whether to renew will also be greatly influenced on whether the Rossoneri can offer him the chance to make his Champions League debut next season.

Consequently, he explained to the ultras that while he wants to remain at San Siro, he has not yet made a decision on his next move. He also dismissed reports that he was ready to join Juve on a free transfer this summer.

It is fair to say that Milan's ultras were unsatisfied with Donnarumma's stance.

The Gazzetta dello Sport claims that they ordered Donnarumma to declare himself unavailable to face Juve on Sunday if he had yet to commit himself to the Rossoneri. In addition, the Corriere dello Sport reported that the 22-year-old left the impromptu meeting in tears.

This would all be quite shocking were it not for the fact that we have been here before. 

Milan fans have a deep connection with Donnarumma. He may have been born in Campania, but he supported the Rossoneri as a boy. He regularly watched his brother Antonio line out for the club's youth team when he was still only small.

"I also used to bring him back my shorts and jerseys," Antonio told Goal in 2017, "so maybe Gigio was destined for Milan from when he was little."

Donnarumma certainly had the look of someone born to represent the Rossoneri when he broke into the first team at just 16 years of age, in October 2015.

It was not just that he already looked like a veteran goalkeeper, he acted like one too. Indeed, while he was a tall, well-built and imposing figure, what really stood out was his composure, and it came as no surprise when, in 2017, he claimed Goal's NXGN award for the best teenage footballer in the world.

However, while Donnarumma may have been unusually mature for a teenager, the first contractual dispute of his career took its toll on him.

During the summer of 2017, his agent Mino Raiola became locked in a bitter war of words with Milan over his client's future. Unfortunately, it was Donnarumma who bore the brunt of the backlash.

He was nicknamed 'Dollarumma' by irate Milan fans, while he had fake money thrown at him while representing Italy at the Under-21 European Championship.

Donnarumma eventually put pen to paper on a new contract on July 11, 2017 – just over a month after rejecting one – while Milan also signed his brother Antonio that summer.

However, the latter deal was viewed as a personal reward for the goalkeeper's Rossoneri renewal, and it did not sit easily with some supporters.

Indeed, the resentment never really relented among Milan's most vociferous followers and, after Donnarumma's underwhelming start to the 2017-18 season, the ultras made their discontent known on December 13.

Ahead of a Coppa Italia clash with Verona at San Siro, Donnaruma was stopped dead in his tracks by a banner on the Curva Sud: "Moral violence, six million per year and the signing of a parasite brother? Now get out, the patience is finished!"

Then-Milan captain Leonardo Bonucci did his best to comfort Donnarumma, but the youngster unsurprisingly proved unable to hold back the tears.

Incredibly, Donnarumma kept a clean sheet against Verona, and once again underlined his remarkable resilience by going on to prove himself the most promising goalkeeper to emerge in Italy since Gianluigi Buffon.

However, the transfer speculation has never gone away, because Raiola remains his representative.

According to the latest reports, Milan have offered Donnarumma a new contract worth €8 million (£6.9m/$9.6m) per annum, which would represent a 25 per cent pay rise.

Raiola, though, claims he has received €10m-a-year offers from other interested parties, including Juventus. With Gazzetta insisting that Milan are refusing to budge, a tense standoff has ensued. 

Of course, that is nothing compared to what Donnarumma had to put up with last weekend. 

And Milan's technical director, Paolo Maldini – who had his own issues with the club's ultras during his playing days at San Siro – has called for an end to the hostility from the fans towards one of their own.

"It is important to firmly reiterate that no one outside of Milan can decide who plays and who renews," the legendary defender told ANSA. "Certain choices are made by the coach, regarding the pitch, and the club, regarding contractual matters...

"The Milan fans, up to now exemplary in supporting the team, must understand that, in this moment, the players need serenity and concentration.

"What happened on Saturday morning with Donnarumma does not help."

Donnarumma, for his part, took to Instagram earlier in the week to insist he remains "focused" on Sunday's trip to Turin. And hopefully that is true. 

Because going into one of the most important games of the season, everyone else will be focused on a goalkeeper who has repeatedly had to deal with an arguably unprecedented level of pressure at such a young age.

Once again, some of those that should be supporting Donnarumma are actually hurting him.