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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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Until recently, Milan had cultivated a reputation for selling off their finest young players. Stephan El Shaarawy, Bryan Cristante, Matteo Darmian, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riccardo Saponara to name but a few departed the San Siro and fans argued that this was short-sighted planning.

However, under the tutelage of Sinisa Mihajlovic the outlook changed. Not only were the young talents staying at the club but they were also actively involved in the first team. Last season 17-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma quickly became Milan’s first-choice goalkeeper and is now seen as the heir to Gigi Buffon. 19-year-old defender Davide Calabria was also given a run in the team and this season looks set to become Milan’s first choice right-back.

New manager Vincenzo Montella feels optimistic about the club’s long term future. This is no surprise because in the last 18 months Milan have either signed or brought back to the club several young talents such as M’Baye Niang, Suso and Alessio Romagnoli. Throw in Mattia De Sciglio who is hardly a veteran at 23-years-old (and who was also developed in-house) and along with Donnarumma and Calabria, Milan have one of the youngest starting XIs in Serie A this season.

18-year-old Manuel Locatelli looks set to be the latest name to join Milan’s every growing contingent of youngsters. The Lecco native was officially promoted to Milan’s first team in February, following Antonio Nocerino’s transfer to Orlando City. He made his debut on 21 April replacing Andrea Poli after 87 minutes at the San Siro during a 0-0 draw against Capri. On 14 May he made his full debut as a starter against Roma in Milan’s last game of the season.

The highly talented midfielder joined Milan at the age of 12 in 2009 and he has steadily moved through the Rossoneri’s youth system. Locatelli is renowned for his passing and he is an astute, creative midfielder who closely resembles Ricardo Montolivo with his style of play.

He prefers to operate from a deep midfield role where he can utilise his range of passing and dictate the game. This explains why he has also been compared to former Milan great Andrea Pirlo. Mauro Bianchessi, the club’s head  scout said “He’s a bit Pirlo and a bit Montolivo.”

Therefore it was quite apt that he replaced Montolivo at the weekend to make his fourth substitute appearance of the season. He marked the appearance with an unstoppable half volley into the top corner to draw Milan level with Sassuolo. His goal and performance will add further strength to the argument that he deserves more playing time this season.

After the game Locatelli broke down in tears as the emotion got the better of him but it showed just how much it meant to him. There is no doubt that the talented youngster can become an influential part of the Milan team and replace the player (Montolivo) that he has been compared to.

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It’s come to that stage again where one must compile a team that is labelled the European Young Team of the Seaon. For this season’s, only players under, and including, the age of 21 can be submitted. So, just for the record: Paulo Dybala is 22-years-old, please retract that comment before pressing send. Thank you kindly.

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
The 17-year-old Italian has played 25 times for AC Milan this season, which is absurd when you think of how much pressure he has on his shoulders guarding the net. At 17, he’s handled it incredibly well and has been known to have cat-like reflexes. Donnarumma has such a long career ahead of him, but the fact he’s breaking into the first-team now can only mean good things for this young goalkeeper.

Right-Back: Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal)
Bellerín has been a special player this season for Arsenal and has consistently stood out; with his lightening quick speed, the right-back has been able to launch counter-attacks efficiently that result in goals. None better to highlight this than the sensational attack against Bayern Munich when Bellerín lost the ball, then out-paced the attacker to retrieve it, run 50 yards down the flank and find a beautiful ball to Mesut Özil to finish it off. Barcelona will be keeping a keen eye on this one.

Centre-Back: Aymeric Laporte (Athletic)
In the summer of last year, Laporte was on the tip of everyone’s tongues as he was permanently talked about a transfer away from Athletic. Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea were, reportedly, the interested parties only to be cut short by his €50m buyout clause. That hasn’t swayed the French defender at all, with playing 40 times this season and becoming a mainstay in Athletic’s defence. Laporte’s 21-years-old now and is perhaps thinking it’s time to kick on in his career – there will be many suitors lined up for him if this is the case.

Centre-Back: José Giménez (Atlético Madrid)
The Uruguayan has played 32 times for Atlético this season in what could be a very successful one. Playing in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, Giménez will be enjoying himself as he’s playing in the top competitions this campaign. What’s been a delight to watch is his pure concentration of tacking. His intelligence of knowing when to go to ground and when to stand an attacker up is sublime and not many learn that craft at such a young age. It’s easy to forget that the Atlético defender is only 21-years-old.

Left-Back: José Gayá (Valencia)
Under Gary Neville’s leadership it hasn’t exactly been plain sailing; however, Gayá has been a bright spark in a pretty dull season. The Spanish international has looked ever so comfortable at left-back, and even more so when he’s in the oppositions half. Gayá’s crossing has been sublime, whether that’s into Alcácer or Rodrigo, the left-back seems to always hit the spot.

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Centre-Midfielder: Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético Madrid)
Saúl is moulding into the perfect midfielder to sit in-front of your defence. In the way that Eric Dier and Sergio Busquets do it so well for Tottenham and Barcelona, Saúl is now starting to emulate their successes for Atlético. That’s not to say that he can’t be used elsewhere, though, and Diego Simeone has certainly made sure oft that. The Spanish utility player has been used on the right-hand side 8 times, 4 on the left and even once in the centre of defence! In years to come, Saúl should settle down and become a very combative box-to-box midfielder.

Centre-Midfielder: Renato Sanches (Benfica)
Last summer a certain José Mourinho tried, and failed, to sign the Portuguese midfielder for Chelsea. Now, Sanches has reportedly signed a deal with Manchester United for this forthcoming transfer window. He’s been heavily touted as a future world class midfielder, with glimpses of Patrick Vieira and Edgar Davids, Sanches is a highly dominant player in the middle of the park that just oozes pure class and control. He’s only 18-years-old so still has much to learn but what a terrific season he’s had with Benfica; they’ve looked a totally different outfit with Sanches coming in in October.

Left-Midfielder: Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
The Golden Boy that not many knew about before he came to Manchester United in September. For those that did, Martial was playing exceedingly well for Monaco which lured the Red Devils in for his signature. However, this season the Frenchman’s really kicked on and even nailed down a starting position for France. Domestically, Martial has practically carried Man Utd to where they are now – 5th and a FA Cup Semi Final – and has been their best outfield played by some way. Having just turned 20, Martial’s got a very, very bright future ahead of him.

Attacking-Midfielder: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
I’m not sure there’s much I can say that will do this boy justice. To put his rise to fame into perspective – Arsenal fans look away now! – since Jack Wilshere’s injury, Alli’s transferred to Tottenham Hotspur from MK Dons, cemented a starting position in the Premier League, had a call-up from England in which he scored on his debut, and overtaken Wilshere’s goals in the league. Alli’s found the net 10 times already this season and assisted 11 times. That’s unbelievable stats from a midfielder who’s only played in this league for 9 months.

Right-Midfielder: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich)
Currently on-loan from Italian giants Juventus, Coman has impressed on his spell with Bayern Munich. He played a considerable part in knocking out his parent club in the Champions League last month and has contributed 6 goals and 10 assists while in Germany. There are talks of Coman settling in Bayern and wanting to stay there permanently, but we’ll see more of that in the summer. The attacker’s been playing so well that Deschamps, the France coach, has consistently called him up to the first-team. Could he be a late addition the France 2016 Euro squad?

Centre-Forward: Moussa Dembélé (Fulham)
Another Frenchman! France’s depth is quite ridiculous. Dembélé, playing for Fulham in the Championship, has played 43 times for them this season which is a behemoth task for such a young player. The centre forward has scored 16 goals this season in all competitions and assisted 6 times. Dembélé’s most definitely one for the future with his quick feet and killer finishing; he has been known to ‘give the eyes’ to goalkeepers.

About the author – Liam Canning

Liam is a free-lance journalist who has featured on The Mirror, Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Independent, Squawka and FoutFourTwo.

twitter: @OffsideLiam

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Gianluigi-Donnarumma

“An embrace from the best goalkeeper in the world,” Milan custodian Gianluigi Donnarumma wrote on Facebook after he swapped shirts with opposite number Gianluigi Buffon at the end of his side’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus in Serie A on Saturday evening. “What an emotion.”

It must have been a rather surreal moment for both men. Just a few short years ago, Donnarumma would have been watching Buffon’s performances on television, hoping that one day he may meet his hero, even if only as a fan. Since then, of course, the kid from the Bay of Naples has become a professional goalkeeper himself, handed his first-team debut by Milan manager Sinisa Mihajlovic at the tender age of 16 in last month’s encounter with Sassuolo at San Siro.

For Buffon, too, it must have been strange to face a keeper less than half his age. The Juventus man made his debut for Parma in November 1995, three-and-a-quarter years before Donnarumma was even born.

It was Buffon who came out on top at Juventus Stadium, the Bianconeri edging out Milan to climb up to sixth in the table and keep their title hopes alive. Donnarumma, though, turned in another impressive performance that was full of confidence and maturity: his handling was excellent and he never looked flustered with the ball at his feet, while he also proved adept at coming off his line and snuffing out danger when the situation called for it.

Crosses were claimed and corners punched clear, his 6ft 5in frame allowing the teenager to dominate his penalty area and relieve pressure on a backline that has looked extremely nervy at times this term; indeed, after 13 matches only Carpi, Frosinone, Verona, Sampdoria, Torino, Empoli and Lazio have conceded more goals than the Rossoneri, with Milan possessing the second-worst defensive record before Donnarumma’s introduction to the starting line-up last month.

Although some claimed he should have done better to prevent Paulo Dybala’s winner, the fierce effort from only seven yards out would have been difficult for even the most seasoned shot-stopper to keep out.

The display was merely a continuation of Donnarumma’s positive start to his senior career. He has kept two clean sheets and conceded only three goals in five games, demonstrating a confidence and assuredness that belies his tender years.

“He is a polite and serious kid, but he has no fear,” Milan youth coach and former midfielder Christian Brocchi said earlier this month. “He has always been a huge Milan fan; he dreams of being Milan goalkeeper for the next 15 years. This dream is very likely to come true.”

It was a major call for Mihajlovic to bring Donnarumma into the team to replace Diego Lopez – who was restricting Iker Casillas to a place on the substitutes’ bench at Real Madrid not too long ago – but, for now, it looks to be paying off. There is still room for improvement for the 16-year-old, but there is hope in Italy that the country has finally found the much-searched-for ‘heir to Buffon’.

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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