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Should AC Milan Sell Gianluigi Donnarumma? A Look At Goalkeeping Finances

Milan’s young phenom is highly-valued and highly-coveted.

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s no secret that AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma is one of the best young players in the world. The Rossoneri’s youth product will likely have over 200 Serie A appearances before his twenty-second birthday, and he has already cemented himself as Italy’s first-choice goalkeeper. He has been phenomenal on the pitch, but is still at least a year or two away from his prime, which is betweem the ages of 23-27, according to Bavarian Football Works. Milan, a club that has been notoriously strapped for cash in recent years, needs to capitalize on Donnarumma’s current value, which is propped up by his potential to become the best goalkeeper in the world.

Financial Struggles

Milan lost an estimated €100 Million last season, a staggering amount, but still around €46 million less than the previous season. The club has attributed €20 million of this figure directly to losses from the pandemic, which comes out to around €1.67 million per match. Assuming the pandemic continues until the end of the current season, it is not unreasonable to assume the club will lose a similar figure, which would come out to €63.3 million over 38 games, though this is obviously a broad estimate.

Milan should be able to offset much of its pandemic loss with a lower wage bill, Europa League income and increased sponsorship revenue, but the club will still suffer a significant financial loss. Selling Donnarumma would be a huge boost to its financial situation, bringing in a hefty transfer fee while also cutting the wage bill by at least 6.67%, and potentially more as Donnarumma’s new contract is likely in the range of €8 - €10 million (his previous deal was €6 million).

Top Goalkeepers are overpaid

The table above has a lot going on, but it essentially shows goalkeeper efficiency given their reported salary. PSxG+/-/90, a Football Reference statistic, takes the expected goals a goalkeeper faces, subtracts the actual goals allowed, and then divides by 90 to get a per-match figure. 0.0 is the expected average, indicating that the goalkeeper stopped all the shots he was supposed to and allowed goals that were expected to be scored, given historical data, though the 2019/20 Serie A qualifying average was slightly higher, at 0.004. This information, divided by wage, gives a general idea of how each goalkeeper has performed relative to his contract. Goalkeepers with high wages are expected to have higher PSxG+/-/90, while lower-paid goalkeepers are expected to have lower PSxG+/-/90. An important note is that the goalkeepers from the three relegated clubs from last year were not included, as they faced a high volume of shots, inflating their PSxG+/-/90. Additionally, larger negative values in the efficiency column are better than smaller negative values, because it is better to pay less per negative goal allowed (i.e: Gollini and Radu had the same PSxG+/-/90, but Gollini was paid less, resulting in a value that has a larger absolute value, but is technically smaller). If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry, it doesn’t to me either and doesn’t impact the argument.

The key takeaway is that, while the highest paid goalkeepers are generally above average (represented by the numbers in green) in efficiency, it is unadvisable to overpay goalkeepers. Of the six paid more than €3 million (21% above average the average salary of €2.47 million), only two (Donnarumma and Sirigu) placed in the top six in terms of efficiency. Donnarumma, who was the sixth-most efficient, actually far outperformed my expectations when I began creating this table, but it is still difficult to justify his salary with Cragno, Strakosha and Sirigu performing at similar or higher levels with much lower wages.

A prime example of an overpaid goalkeeper is Juventus’ Szczesny, according to PSxG+/-/90. The Polish international is a quite talented, but was given a new contract after ranking ninth in efficiency last season, according to the table. His new contract is rumored to be around €12.2 million, but so far this season, in an extremely limited sample size, his PSxG+/-/90 is -0.15, which comes out to an efficiency of -0.0123, an atrocious figure that would have ranked last in the table above.

Goalkeepers can be replaced much easier than other positions, as Milan’s failed summer search for a new centre-back indicates. There is an abundant supply, they generally are paid less and often perform relative to the backline in front of them, which bodes well for those coming to Milan. The ideal goalkeeper is a lot like Simon Kjær. The Dane provided Milan’s defense with a cheap, experienced veteran who provides either a solid starting option or a great depth piece to have on the bench.

Look at Ligue 1, for example. Last season, the French top flight had five goalkeepers finish with a PSxG+/-/90 higher than Donnarumma. One of them, Predrag Rajkovic, allowed just 18 goals in 27 matches, finishing with a PSxG+/-/90 of 0.32. The Serbian made an estimated €640,000 last season, 10% as much as Milan’s young goalkeeper, which is an efficiency of 0.5, an incredibly high number when compared to the Serie A table. The top five leagues are filled with quality goalkeeping options, and many of them would require low transfer fees and would have low wage demands. Incidentally, Rajkovic has also saved the most penalties in the top five leagues, according to Parma’s twitter.

This article is not intended to bash Donnarumma, who has been fantastic for Milan, but to show that there are many financially-viable options who could provide a quality level of play for far a much lower price. The Rossoneri should seriously consider selling the 21-year-old in an upcoming transfer window and replace him with a cheap veteran, who can provide the Milan with a Kjær-like presence. In the financial difficulties of the Covid-19 era, clubs have to save money however they can, and the Rossoneri’s most valuable asset happens to be in the position that easily produces economical replacements.