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Just Watch: Gianluigi Donnarumma

Gianluigi has sprezzatura – an aura of casual brilliance – to underline his impressive record for his country
Fri, Jun 25, 2021

Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma hasn't conceded a goal in his last eight games, or 12 hours of continuous and flawless net minding. He's chasing his compatriot Dino Zoff's 1972-1974 record of 19 unblemished hours of pristine linen.

In all fairness, Donnarumma is unlikely to overhaul Zoff, because while his team are doing an excellent impression of invincibility – they have now gone 30 games unbeaten – the road ahead is rocky.

Because even if Roberto Mancini's bright blue machine do manage to see off Austria as expected tomorrow night and advance from the round of 16, a gang of opposition goal machines will darken the next two doors to the final.

Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo all lurk in Italy's side of the draw, seeded to meet Italy in either the quarters or the semis. Those chaps are all willing and able to puncture the AC Milan keeper's reputation as the finest young goalkeeping talent on the planet.

Ridiculously, Donnarumma is still just 22. He can't take all the credit for his side's defensive rigour – not when his penalty box is patrolled by two magisterial Azzurri defenders in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who have racked up over 200 international caps between them. Those two centrebacks radiate their authority and guile throughout the side; they are the football equivalents of Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus.

But nobody is in any doubt that Donnarumma is the business in his own right – least of all Paris Saint-Germain, who have scooped him up on a free transfer during this off-season.

The kid from Castellammare di Stabia, a sleepy small town near Naples, is a very big kid indeed, standing 1,96cm in his socks. But that elongated frame comes with an unlikely agility when it comes to shot-stopping, plus a prized asset in modern keeping: a mix of decisiveness, good judgment and speed when rushing off his line to foil a forward who has outstripped the defence.

And it's very important that Donnarumma already wields an aura of deep calm and casual unflappability. He gives the impression that an error from him is inconceivable, but in the inconceivable event that an error does happen, then it surely won't be a problem. It's a vibe that all the greatest Italian keepers gave off, from Zoff to Walter Zenga to Gianluigi Buffon, his namesake and boyhood idol. No ranting or screaming or praying from those gentlemen: none of the intense theatrics that some other great keepers are prone to.

That attitude of casual excellence is an old thread in Italian cultural history, defined as sprezzatura, roughly translated as "studied carelessness".  The word first appeared in Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 The Book of the Courtier, in which Castiglione defined it as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".

This week or next week, Donnarumma's chain of clean sheets might get torn – but his aura of sprezzatura will stay pristine.

  • Catch Italy v Austria, Saturday 26 June at 9pm, on DStv 203 and Showmax Pro.