The contract soap opera that engulfed AC Milan and their promising young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in the summer has come back to haunt the Serie A giants just as they try to get their faltering season back on track.
Milan, seventh and 11 points off the Champions League places, travel to Verona on Sunday looking to build on two wins in a row in league and cup after a torrid first half to their campaign.
But despite Gennaro Gattuso’s side beating Bologna 2-1 last weekend and hammering Verona at home in the Italian Cup on Wednesday, it is Donnarumma that is dominating the headlines in Italy.
The relationship between the 18-year-old, considered the heir to Gianluigi Buffon after the veteran Juventus stopper’s retirement from international football, his agent Mino Raiola and the club is back in the spotlight.
Earlier this week, it was reported that he claimed to have suffered “ethical abuse” in July when he signed a contract renewal worth six million euros ($7.1m) a year.
The Corriere Della Sera claimed on Tuesday that Raiola wanted the contract cancelled because of the pressure to sign allegedly piled on him by Milan.
A tearful Donnarumma had to be consoled by captain Leonardo Bonucci in the dressing room after being pelted with abuse by Milan fans before Wednesday’s 3-0 Italian Cup beating of Verona at the San Siro and on Thursday evening the teenager denied everything on Instagram.
“I’ve never said nor wrote that I suffered ethical abuse when I signed my contract,” he said.
The fans behind the goal Donnarumma kept in the first half on Wednesday had aimed a series of insulting chants at the stopper and unfurled a banner that made their feelings crystal clear.
– ‘Parasite’ –
“Ethical abuse with six million a year and a contract for your parasite brother? Go now, our patience has run out!”
The “parasite” the home fans were referring to is Antonio Donnarumma, the 27-year-old brother of Gianluigi and former Piacenza and Bari goalkeeper — as well as Milan youth product — who was signed from Greek side Asteras Tripoli on an eyebrow-raising four-year-deal with a reported salary of one million euros the day after the younger Donnarumma signed his renewal.
After Wednesday’s match, sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli launched into Raiola, calling him the cause of “the rot” between Donnarumma and Milan and claiming that the agent was trying to manipulate a lucrative transfer for his client.
“We don’t have to sell anyone and no-one can hold us by the throat,” Mirabelli told reporters.
Raiola replied on Thursday night, sending a statement to the Gazzetta dello Sport in which he called Mirabelli “the real problem at Milan” and said that the director was “using Gigio to wage war” with him.
“This summer Gianluigi Donnarumma had offers that no player would reject, but he made a choice with the heart,” he wrote.
The reopening of this old wound couldn’t have come at a worse time for Milan, who seem to have steadied the ship after a rocky start to Gennaro Gattuso’s reign as coach following Vincenzo Montella’s sacking last month.
They have some tricky fixtures between now and the end of the year, including an Italian Cup quarter-final derby clash with unbeaten Serie A leaders Inter Milan.
Saturday (all times GMT)
Inter Milan v Udinese (1400), Torino v Napoli (1700), Roma v Cagliari (1945)
Hellas Verona v AC Milan (1130), Bologna v Juventus, Crotone v Chievo, Fiorentina v Genoa, Sampdoria v Sassuolo (all 1400), Benevento v SPAL (1700) Atalanta v Lazio (2045)