Fans need a reality check dealing with Italy and Donnarumma

The hysterical reaction over Italy’s Nations League defeat to Germany, and specifically Gianluigi Donnarumma’s comments, proves just how little people understand the moment, writes Susy Campanale.

Every time people ask why Calcio doesn’t launch young players with as much regularity and eagerness as other nations, and every time we get the answer clear as day as soon as something goes wrong. The Azzurri played five games in the last two weeks and we heard every imaginable hot take. After the 3-0 Finalissima defeat to Argentina, Roberto Mancini was begged to throw the entire squad out the window and start from scratch with the youngsters. He did that, earning a 1-1 draw with Germany in a game we fully expected to lose badly, then beating Hungary 2-1, which as it turns out from other results is by no means something to be taken for granted, and seemed content enough with a point away to England.

We saw the same people praise the starting XI in Germany, who by 45 minutes in were happy to declare Mancini didn’t know what he was doing and should be sacked. There was a reaction late on, Italy did get two goals back to make the scoreline a little less embarrassing at 5-2, but Die Mannschaft were visibly fired up and desperate to get that statement win after three consecutive stalemates. The drubbing we expected the first time out arrived at the fourth game, which made the reaction all the more disheartening.

Italy fans act like spoilt brats and always have done. In the space of 10 days we saw Willy Gnonto go from the greatest player the Azzurri ever produced who really should’ve already been playing in the World Cup qualifiers when he had barely just turned 18, to that classic moniker ‘over-rated’ after one poor game. If anyone wants to understand why Italian football is careful with young players, this is your answer in a nutshell. There is no sense of balance.

The same is true for the whole team, as fans and media went from ‘this is the Italy we want, why weren’t they playing before?!’ to ‘Italy have no talents, they are a total waste of space.’ Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it can be brought down in a heartbeat.

Donnarumma is another case in point that we really need to look at carefully. It might feel like he’s been around forever, but he is still only 23 years old and was named Player of the Tournament at EURO 2020. He remains one of the best shot-stoppers in the sport. Yes, he always was poor with his feet, but frankly he has improved in recent years on that, going from total disaster to only potential disaster. It would also help if his teammates stopped giving him such wobbly back-passes to deal with, knowing that opposition strikers will go into the high press because of his reputation.

Donnarumma was accused of arrogance for his irritated reaction to the RAI Sport line of questioning after the defeat to Germany. He went to speak first as captain, nobody likes to lose 5-2, so he was never going to be in the best mood. The same channel didn’t treat Nicolò Barella with much respect either, asking if the players felt “ashamed of yourselves?” None of this is helping the situation.

Now there are calls for Donnarumma to be dropped, because Italy have so many great alternatives just lining up behind him who are never error-prone, like Alex Meret… In 10 days we’ve gone from ‘Mancini can’t invent players’ to ‘see he always had the players’ and round to ‘Mancini doesn’t know what he’s doing with these players.’

The tendency to catastrophise is the most damaging thing about Italian football, throwing the baby out with the bathwater and forgetting any positive lessons in order to call for a scorched earth policy. The Nations League was meant to be that reset that people asked for, and they got it. Let’s be honest, Italy did far better than expected in the first three games and that saw people get ahead of themselves. That’s not Mancini’s fault, nor Donnarumma or Gnonto, it’s the fault of the fans and media. Accept reality and try actually helping.