Following Wojciech Szczesny’s error strewn game against Udinese, James Brooke believes that Juventus could well regret not signing Gigio Donnarumma for free this summer.
It was no surprise to see Cristiano Ronaldo indignant with rage following the cancellation of his would-be match winning header against Udinese on Sunday. He loves scoring goals and woe betide anyone who tries to compromise that.
But the fire of Ronaldo’s fury must surely have paled into comparison to the sinking feeling Wojciech Szczęsny must have felt as he watched his teammates’ header erased from the scoreboard.
It would be an oversimplification to pin Juventus’ failure to see out their two-goal lead on their Polish goalkeeper, but there is no getting away from the fact that Szczęsny’s mistakes were incredibly costly.
With Juve 2-0 up and well on the way to an opening day win, he allowed Tolgay Arslan’s tame shot to squirm out of his grasp before diving recklessly at the German’s feet to give Udinese a blatant penalty and a way back into the game.
Then, with less than ten minutes to play, the former Roma man dallied on the ball long enough for Stefano Okaka and Gerard Deulofeu to smell blood. Okaka pounced on the panicked clearance, squaring it for Deulofeu who hooked into an empty net for 2-2.
It is rare to see two such glaring errors from the same player in a single game and it has once again put Szczęsny’s position as Juventus’ number one under intense scrutiny.
Despite the predictable torrent of abuse from sections of the fanbase, it is important to remember the high regard in which he is held in Italy.
A particularly impressive second season on loan at Roma in 2016/17 in which he kept a league high 14 clean sheets was good enough to earn a move to Turin where he was pencilled in to replace the soon to be departing Gigi Buffon.
Except Buffon didn’t depart. Not entirely anyway. The two keepers jostled for the number one spot in 17/18 and the legacy of that stop start, sharing the shirt season is what has defined Szczęsny’s career at Juventus so far.
Buffon did join Paris Saint Germain for the 2018/19 season but having failed to establish himself as the first choice there, he was soon back in Turin. Szczęsny generously offered the World Cup winner his number one shirt back upon his return which, although Buffon declined the offer. This only added to the feeling that he just couldn’t shake off the shadow of one of the greatest goalkeepers of the modern game.
He seemed to take a leap forward under Maurizio Sarri in 2019/20, winning Serie A goalkeeper of the year and stepped up for his side in so many moments during a slog of a campaign. But even in this impressive season, he still had to share the shirt at times with Buffon.
The same was true of last season and although Szczęsny can rightfully claim to have been a key player in two Scudetto winning campaigns (and an important player in a third) the truth is that he has been caught in the unfortunate no-man’s-land between great Italian custodians past and future.
It has been claimed that Juventus were very keen on signing Gianluigi Donnarumma this summer, and why wouldn’t they be? They have a rich tradition of employing the very best the peninsula has to offer in every position and following Buffon’s second departure, it seemed almost inevitable that he would be replaced in the squad by the man who has so successfully taken over his mantle for the Azzurri.
Except for the returning Max Allegri that might have been the way things went but according to reports, the mister personally blockaded the move in a show of faith to Szczęsny.
Whether that was wise or not already looks to be up for debate and whilst the Pole clearly has his qualities, there is always a nagging feeling that he doesn’t quite stack up to the very best on the continent.
The same can’t be said of Donnarumma who looks set to make an assault on the Champions League title with PSG this season and following his player of the tournament showing in this summer’s European Championships, his name is now firmly in any conversation around the best keepers in the world.
Szczęsny has wrestled with the weight of the shirt he inherited from Buffon and has at times suffered from the simple fact that he isn’t his predecessor. If he keeps gifting goals away like the two in Udine on Sunday, fans may not be able to forgive him the crime of not being Gianluigi Donnarumma.