It may not be the most glamorous position on the field, with strikers and attacking midfielders often stealing the glory, but no good side is complete without a top-class goalkeeper.

Here are five of the best young emerging keepers in Europe…

Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan

When given his senior debut by Sinisa Mihajlovic last season, Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper in the history of Serie A at the age of 16 years and eight months.

Almost immediately, a new superstar of calcio was born. The teenage quickly established himself as the Rossoneri’s first choice between the posts, keeping the vastly experienced Christian Abbiati out of the team.

Standing at 6ft 5ins tall and blessed with remarkable reflexes for such a large young man, Donnarumma has all of the physical gifts to excel as a top-level goalkeeper.

But perhaps the now-17-year-old’s most valuable attribute is his temperament. Ever since making his Serie A bow back in October 2015, Donnarumma has carried himself with the poise and unawed demeanour of a seasoned veteran.

The Milan stopper, who wears the number 99 to reflect the year of his birth, demonstrated his value to the team in the closing stages of their season opener against Torino at the San Siro. Milan were hanging on to a slender 3-2 lead when the away side were awarded a penalty in stoppage time. It was the first time in his fledgling career that Donnarumma had faced a spot kick. But with the coolness of a much more experienced keeper, he made a superb diving save to deny Andrea Belotti and seal the three points for his team.

In just 41 appearances for Milan, Donnarumma has already kept 15 clean sheets. So far this season, he is averaging 2.91 saves per game and has a 100 percent success rate when coming to claim crosses.

This is the kind of form that led to him becoming the Azzurri’s youngster ever goalkeeper when making his debut in a friendly against France in August.

Alban Lafont – Toulouse

In France, 17-year-old Toulouse goalkeeper Alban Lafont has been earning rave reviews.

The teenager became the youngest keeper in Ligue 1 history when he made his first-team debut at the age of 16 years and 10 months last November. At 6ft 4ins, Lafont has all of the physical tools to thrive in his position despite his tender years, and has represented France at under-18 level.

Born in Burkina Faso, Lafont moved to France when he was nine. It wasn’t long before the young man’s athletic gifts were noticed and, after receiving a host of offers from clubs all over the country, he elected to join Toulouse’s youth academy.

With the team shipping goals and struggling at the bottom of the table, Lafont’s introduction to the first team coincided with Toulouse’s turnaround. His debut came in a 2-0 win over high flying Nice; it was Les Pitchouns’ first clean sheet of the campaign.

In the 14 games before his debut, Toulouse had conceded 29 goals; the subsequent 24 matches with Lafont between the sticks they allowed 27 goals. And this season he has been in equally superlative form, with his performance in the 2-0 win over champions PSG in September particularly impressive.

Former Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet believes the key to Lafont’s success is his maturity: “He is a smart goalkeeper who reads the game well. It is possible to feel that. He brings a lot of confidence despite his young age.” It also helps that he is playing behind his good friend Issa Diop. The 19-year-old centre-back was a team-mate of Lafont’s at youth level and the pair have now both become key players for Toulouse.

Jordan Pickford – Sunderland

There are few reasons for optimism for Sunderland fans at the moment. Davis Moyes’s team are bottom of the Premier League having taken just two points from their first 10 games.

But the emergence of young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is providing a small ray of hope in these dark times for the Black Cats.

The 22-year-old England under 21-international has spent the last four years gathering first-team experience through a series of loan spells in the lower divisions.

Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End have all benefited from the burgeoning talent of Pickford in recent seasons.

The youngster made his Sunderland debut in December 2015 in an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal. When he made his maiden Premier League appearance against Tottenham Hotspur nine days later, it meant that he had appeared in all of the top four divisions in England by the age of 21.

An injury to regular first-choice keeper Vito Mannone handed Pickford the chance to impress at the Stadium of Light earlier this season. Although Sunderland continue to struggle, the number 13’s stock has risen.

Were it not for Pickford’s average of 3.38 saves per game and 100 percent claim success this season, Sunderland could be in an even worse position.

Joël Drommel – FC Twente

FC Twente’s 19-year-old goalkeeper Joël Drommel made his first-team debut against the mighty Ajax in a 2-2 draw December of last year.

The youngster, who is a product of Twente’s own youth academy, went on to make 15 appearances for the Dutch club last season.

This term, Drommel has been back-up to the more experienced Nick Marsman, but there is no rush for the talented stopper to be thrust into regular senior action as he only turns 20 this month.

Much like Donnarumma and Lafont, Drommel cuts an imposing figure for one so young, standing at 6ft 4ins. His decision-making ability and reliability when collecting crosses marks the youngster out as having a level of maturity beyond his years.

Though yet to appear for the Netherlands at under-21 level, the Bussum-born teenager was called up to the Jong Oranje squad last season.

Raúl Gudiño – FC Porto

Mexican goalkeeper Raúl Gudiño signed for FC Porto from Guadalajara in his homeland for $1.5 million in the summer of 2015, following a successful 10-month loan spell with the Dragões.

Gudiño is yet to make his first-team debut for Porto, but he does have Primeira Liga experience thanks to spending last season on loan with União da Madeira.

The 6ft 5ins 20-year-old is renowned for his lightning-quick reflexes and shot stopping ability.

Gudiño was named the CONCACAF Young Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 for his performances with Mexico at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and has appeared five times for EL Tricolor at under-23 level.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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AC Milan patron Silvio Berlusconi has stated more than once over the past couple of years of his desire for his side to be filled with a majority of Italian players.

In an effort to build for the future by utilising the domestic league’s Italians while also nurturing players through their own academy, Milan are looking to form an identity in the present day after consecutive seasons of disappointment. The Rossoneri want to emulate clubs like Torino and Sassuolo who are currently fielding nearly an entire starting XI of Italians, and have found success doing it.

The former Prime Minister must have been pleased to note that eight out of Milan’s starting XI against Lazio were indeed Italian. Moreover, with the 3-1 win in the capital, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men sit just four points off third-place.

Although the club’s past transfer windows have often been unable to forge a sense of completeness and stability to the squad, the additions of Alessio Romagnoli from Roma and Davide Calabria from Milan’s primavera side have been noteworthy and exceptional.

At just 20 and 18 years of age, the introduction of these two defenders in this campaign creates a real possibility of forming a formidable backline for years to come.

Romagnoli spent last season on loan at Sampdoria under his current manager, making 30 league appearances and winning plaudits from around the peninsula. The Italian giants purchased the left-footed centre-back in a deal worth €25 million plus possible bonuses, and has already proved to be a great signing for Milan.

The 20-year-old possesses great technique in his dribbling and passing abilities and can also feature at left-back. His intelligent positioning allows him to meet defenders head on and eloquently dispossess them of the ball. Impressively, the former Roma man has won 78% of his headed duels and recorded 86% passing accuracy this season.

Composed and confident, Romagnoli’s patience on the ball speaks volume for how mature he is for his age.

Romagnoli has had to pair up with Cristian Zapata, Alex and Rodrigo Ely in the back this season under Mihajlovic. But despite the shuffling of defenders, the 20-year-old has kept his concentration levels high and has been one of Milan’s bright spots so far this season.

However, as he appears quite lean, the young centre-back should enhance his game by bulking up and getting stronger in order to battle the game’s fiercest attackers.

While Romagnoli is marshalling the centre of defence, Calabria has stepped in and provided quality at right-back. The 18-year-old rose through the ranks of the Rossoneri’s academy, making 47 appearances, before making his senior debut this season.

Calabria has a delicate first touch and great close control. In his three matches played so far, he has showcased considerable pace down the right-flank as well as an impressive amount of stamina and endurance.

Explosive, dynamic and alert, he has proved to be a solid right-back option for the likes of Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio.

The youth product completed his debut against Palermo in the fourth round of Serie A play, coming on for the injured Abate, helping his side to a 3-2 win.

Calabria was then handed a start in the club’s next match against Udinese. He put in a solid shift and surprisingly, was subbed off for Alex just five minutes after half-time.

It turned out to be a poor move by Mihajlovic as the Rossoneri would concede a pair of goals and almost threw away their 3-0 lead. Nonetheless, the academy product would complete the full 90 away to Genoa, which unfortunately ended in a 1-0 loss.

Looking at his performances, Calabria has prided himself in moments of decisiveness. Not daunted by the high level of play, the right-back has averaged 4.7 tackles and 1.3 appearances per match.

Aggressive and always looking to push forward to join the attack, Calabria represents the modern day fullback. He also has the ability to pick out a pass, having created three chances thus far, the second most of any other Milan defender.

An area in which Calabria should look to improve in is his overall passing. While he possesses good intentions, his over eagerness at times lets him down, resulting in numerous misplaced passes. He has recorded 67% passing accuracy this term, which is the lowest return of any outfield play of his side bar Philippe Mexes.

Calabria will have to continue to battle with Abate and De Sciglio for a starting place this season, but when called up, the 18-year-old will show his quality. Furthermore, his good form won him a call-up to his country’s under-21 setup last month.

All in all, with Milan’s hopes of returning to the pinnacle of Italian football, entrusting in two young, Italian talents in Romagnoli and Calabria is a wise choice in establishing a solid foundation for future success.

About the author – Matthew Amalfitano

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.

twitter: _MattFootball


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Most players would simply have thrashed a shot at goal, but Giacomo Bonaventura had other ideas.

Off-balance and with Palermo defenders rushing towards him, the 26-year-old demonstrated remarkable composure to flick the ball to Carlos Bacca, who hit a fine finish into the top corner with the outside of his foot to give Milan the lead. Palermo gave the Rossoneri a few scares for the remainder of the match, but Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side ultimately deserved all three points as they held on for a victory that lifted them into the top half of the Serie A table.

Bonaventura, who grabbed his team’s second goal in their 3-2 win with a sumptuous free-kick just before half time, was the best player on the San Siro pitch. If Milan are to return to the top three this season and the Champions League next, they will need to keep the Italy international fit and firing over the next eight months.

Signed from Atalanta for €7 million on the final day of last summer’s transfer window, Bonaventura enjoyed a positive debut campaign in the red-and-black stripes of Milan; alongside Nigel De Jong, Jeremy Menez and Diego Lopez, Bonaventura was one of only a handful of players to emerge with any credit following a disastrous season for the 18-time Italian champions, who finished 35 points adrift of top spot and just 18 ahead of the relegation zone in tenth place.

There has been a concerted effort to ensure that a repeat of such a miserable year is avoided this term, with €86.5 million spent on new additions in the summer. Bacca, Luiz Adriano, Juraj Kucka and Alessio Romagnoli have all already shown they will add something to this team, but strong and consistent displays from some of the club’s existing stars will be needed if Milan are to win their battle with the likes of Napoli, Inter, Lazio and Fiorentina and break back into the top three.

Fielded next to Kucka in a midfield diamond – with Ricardo Montolivo at the base and Keisuke Honda at the tip – Bonaventura provided a vital link between defence and attack, picking up the ball in central areas and moving it forward via either a pass or a dribble. His distribution was incisive and intelligent as he combined well with both Montolivo and Honda, as well as slipping accurate balls towards strike duo Bacca and Adriano.

An excellent technical player, Bonaventura also showed his willingness to track back and get stuck in. Milan were certainly the better team against the Sicilians, yet still required some manful defending to preserve their lead late on, a cause that Bonaventura was more than happy to support.

The Italy international – Bonaventura has only been capped twice by his country to date but will be hoping to play his way into contention for a spot in Antonio Conte’s European Championship squad next year – can still be inconsistent, but he has the ability to make a big impact on Milan and Serie A this season. Mihajlovic will be hoping that he continues to perform as he did against Palermo under the San Siro floodlights on Saturday night.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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