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 Coppa Italia 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 €6million 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 Coppa Italia 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.
“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 €1million 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.
“For me Mbappe is the revelation of football,” Maradona, the star of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph, said in an interview with Spanish daily AS. “He seems to me that he can be better than lots of players.”
It has been a remarkable 2017 for Mbappe. He helped fire Monaco to a first French league title in 17 years and reached the Champions League semi-finals, before joining PSG in a stunning deal worth €180million.
Maradona named the Frenchman as part of a list of players he believes are worthy of challenging Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi‘s perpetual claim to the Ballon d’Or — an award both have won five times each since 2008.
“Giving it to Cristiano and giving it to Messi has become boring,” said Maradona. “There needs to be others getting involved in the fight, like Cavani, Mbappe, (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic. I don’t know, there just needs to be some others.”
Maradona also recalled advising Real Madrid president Florentino Perez to sign Mbappe prior to him moving to PSG.
“I said that to Florentino, sign Mbappe. I told him that! It was when we saw each other at FIFA,” Maradona recounted. “He told me, ‘But you know I have Cristiano already.'”
Mbappe had reportedly been a target of Real, but the European champions were ultimately beaten to his signature by PSG.
Portuguese and Besiktas defender Pepe has called on compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo to join him at the Istanbul club.
During a live video on his Instagram page in September, Ronaldo was asked to “#ComeToBesiktas” and took time to respond to fans’ pleas.
“Pepe’s there and Quaresma” the 32-year-old said. “They don’t need me!”
But Pepe outlined why he would prefer his fellow country man to join him at Besiktas over any other player in the world.
“Off the pitch, Cristiano is an extremely normal person… People talk without knowing the real Cristiano. He’s a normal person with normal habits like us,” said Pepe.
“He’s demonstrated that he’s a good father and he also has a lot of time for his sons. He stresses the importance of being a father which I think is important. He’s does this perfectly and naturally.”