Gianluigi Donnarumma v Jordan Pickford: Battle of the goalkeepers

Gianluigi Donnarumma v Jordan Pickford: Battle of the goalkeepers

Sunday’s Wembley final is high noon between the goalposts: England’s Jordan Pickford versus Gianluigi Donnarumma of Italy. Craig Liddle, Pickford’s former manager at Darlington, believes that the Everton player is potentially the best goalkeeper in the world. I wouldn’t go that far, but truly Pickford is among the best. But so is his Italian rival – and his name sounds like a Verdi opera.

How do they compare? On the line Pickford definitely has the advantage. He moves smoothly, like a jaguar, is extremely quick on his feet and has astounding reflexes. No wonder that they called him “Speedy” at school. He is not as tall as Donnarumma, rather small for a modern goalie at 1.85m, a fraction over 6ft. The Italian measures 1.96m, 6ft 4in, but does not have the same reaction speed. Advantage Pickford, 1-0.

In terms of reach, the 11cm of physical advantage translate into a greater range and a better control of the area and incoming high balls. The Azzurri goalkeeper seems like an octopus reaching even to seemingly impossible balls. Advantage Donnarumma, 1-1.

In terms of technical skills, Pickford is undoubtedly the stronger player with the ball at his feet. He shows complete control of the ball, with both feet. Donnarumma’s skills are satisfactory but he is not at the same level. Advantage Pickford, 2-1.

Pickford is 27, Donnarumma only 22, but in terms of coolness and serenity the younger goalkeeper has the edge. Donnarumma is a product of Milan’s goalkeeper school. He was top-level from early on, just 17 when he replaced the legendary Gigi Buffon in the national team.

Today he looks like a 35-year-old when he organises his defensive line, and sometimes even reminds me of Germany’s Manuel Neuer. Donnarumma also has two incredible central defenders playing in front of him: Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are world-class players. Advantage Donnarumma, 2:2.

Looking at the numbers, Pickford has set a record for an England goalkeeper for most consecutive minutes without conceding, overtaking Gordon Banks’ 720 minutes set in 1966. So it’s understandable that he is a contender for the Golden Gloves award at these Euros. With five in a row, he achieved the most clean sheets in the tournament. To me Pickford looks stronger than ever.

After his clash with Virgil van Dijk he got death threats from Liverpool fans and he even saw a sports psychologist. “He can help me develop my thinking … and learn how to cope with various things and get through sticky patches.” This guy did a great job.

In the final we will see how stable Pickford has become when the pressure gets almost unbearable. He has the talent and the skill to become a hero for the England fans. Imagine a penalty shootout and Pickford saves the decisive kick. Gareth Southgate would probably adopt him immediately.

That said, at the other end of the pitch Donnarumma has an even greater potential. Not only is he physically a giant, his mental strength is also outstanding for a player his age.

My final judgment is a boring draw. I hope we will go to a shootout, and then for the sake of the story I hope Pickford will be the hero and lead the game’s motherland to a desperately wanted major-tournament win.

I love drama and a good story. And Donnarumma’s time will definitely come in the future. “Donnarumma é mobile” – perhaps somebody will honour the youngster from the gulf of Naples in the future with an opera.

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