In collaboration with Golden Concept
From Milan to Paris,
Gianluigi Donnarumma’s journey to footballing immortality.
In the grandest of stages, some stories emerge that are beautiful and unexpected. In this latest SWM world-exclusive, Paris’ adopted son, Gigi Donnarumma, reflects on his remarkable journey from Castellammare di Stabia on the Bay of Naples to champions of Europe with the Italian national side.
Mention Gigi’s name in any country, city or town worldwide; people will know who you’re talking about. In all respects, they don’t come more colossal than Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Since his astonishing arrival on the European football scene some eight years ago, Gigi has become the most celebrated goalkeeper in the world — a figure instantly recognisable and never far from the bright lights of global competition.
Despite his age, he’s enjoyed more success for club and country than most could even dream of, and off the pitch, he’s become the ultimate Italian gentleman. His relaxed outlook on life and infallible composure, alongside his impeccable dress sense, puts Gigi in a category synonymous with luxury.
In the first collaboration of 2024, we spent the day in the fashion capital of the Western world to capture Gigi in his new home. Set in the prestigious Prince de Galles hotel on the iconic Avenue George V, the Lalique Suite provided the perfect environment to capture Gigi in a new light.
Created by world-renowned designer Patrick Hellmann, the Lalique Suite is nestled on the 8th and 9th floors of the hotel, embodying the values that unite Prince de Galles and Maison Lalique in their quest for excellence and their respect for tradition. The result is a minimalist contemporary feel bolstered by views of the Eiffel Tower and Parisian skyline.
Upon reflection, no player in history announced themselves on the world stage in a fashion similar to Gigi Donnarumma’s. Aged just 16 years and 242 days, Gigi wrote his name into the history books when he made his Serie A debut for AC Milan, becoming the second-youngest goalkeeper to start a match in the history of Italian football.
“It was beautiful and unexpected,” Gigi recalls, reminiscing about his debut and early fame. The opportunity afforded to him by Sinisa Mihajlovic marked the beginning of an extraordinary career. “My dreams came true at 16 when I started for Milan. I was fortunate and took the opportunity, but I achieved it by working hard and never being satisfied, which I think is one of my most important qualities.”
On and off the pitch, Gigi possesses many admirable qualities. At 6ft 6in tall, he is not only one of the best shot-stoppers in the game; he’s pretty handy with the ball at his feet — a trait greatly admired in the modern game. Regarding life outside of football, it’s fair to say Gigi doesn’t drop the ball there, either. A regular attendee of Louis Vuitton’s fashion shows and no stranger to a luxurious holiday or two, Gigi and his partner Alessia Elefante are making the most of all a footballer’s lifestyle has to offer.
Before his new life in Paris, Gigi’s years in Milan were a kaleidoscope of beautiful moments, culminating with victory in the 2016 SuperCoppa Italiana. Reflecting on his success with the Rossoneri, he acknowledges the poignant blend of positive and negative experiences that can shape a footballer’s career. “There were many positive moments, and certainly negative moments, but those are the ones that help you to grow,” he says.
“Looking back at my time in Milan, it was an incredible period of my life. There were so many memorable moments that I could talk about, but winning trophies, particularly the SuperCoppa against Juventus, was special for me.”
Gigi, now 24, has never shied away from showing his family and coaches gratitude for their trust in him throughout his career. From an early age, Gigi’s family supported his and his brother’s dreams of making it in professional football, so much so that they uprooted their life in the coastal town of Castellammare di Stabia, moving 500 miles north when AC Milan signed him for €250,000 at just 14 years old.
Few could have predicted what has happened in the decade since. In only a matter of years, Gigi has become one of the world’s best goalkeepers, and now, with numerous high-stakes matches under his belt, he has experience most can only dream of. “I have to thank my coaches who gave me the opportunity and had the belief in me,” he says. “I have already played many matches and gathered experience in the game, but I have to continue to train hard and always give my best for the team.”
In light of his accomplishments with AC Milan, Gigi seemed destined to wear the iconic blue of the Azzurri. In August 2016, aged 17 years and 189 days, he became the youngest goalkeeper to play for Italy, cementing his succession to the throne of the legendary Gianluigi Buffon. As he stepped into the spotlight that evening, it was a dream come true for Gigi and his family and a changing of the guard in Italy.
Inevitable were the comparisons to Buffon, marked by his appearance, leadership traits, and position on the pitch. Italy boasts a legacy of world-class defenders and goalkeepers, yet in Gigi’s eyes, Buffon remains unparalleled. “There is only one Gianluigi Buffon,” he admits. “He has made history. I still have much to give in my career, but even getting close to his successes and history would be incredible.
“Every child dreams of playing for the national team, but to do it at 17 with Buffon by my side as a symbol of Italian football was extraordinary. I believe he stands as the pinnacle, the very best in history. “Every day working with him was a privilege — thankfully, I had the opportunity to learn from him and follow his advice. I feel fortunate that he is still a part of the national team, and I will never forget those moments because they are part of my story. I’m incredibly proud to represent my country.”
As we continue our trip down memory lane, Gigi delves into the historic European triumph of 2020, emphasising the importance of the team’s humility, hard work, and the guidance of the effervescent Roberto Mancini. “We made history that day,” says Gigi. “It’s not easy to win a European Championship, but from the beginning, we believed we could win, and with humility, hard work, and Roberto Mancini, who kept us calm, we won. The team and the staff worked perfectly together, and the strength of our group was the reason we won. Witnessing thousands of Italians flood the streets in celebration will live with me forever; it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
In 2021, Gigi’s performances for the Azzurri paid off when he captained the team for the first time in a 2-1 win against Belgium, which made him the youngest Azzurri captain since Gianni Rivera in 1965. Taking on the role of captain comes with additional responsibilities, but Gigi embraces this weight with unshakeable confidence. “When you wear that armband, you carry a little more weight on your shoulders,” he admits. “But it makes you grow and helps you mature as a player. I will always give my best and hope to lead the team to victory, which would be an incredible honour.”
Joining PSG in 2021 marked the start of a new and exciting chapter for Gigi, surrounded by some of the world’s most recognisable and influential footballers. Their winning mentality, unmatched lifestyle, and the city’s allure have made him feel right at home. “When you come here, you understand the environment and how important it is to be at your best every day,” he shares, underscoring the mindset of The Parisians.
“I feel fortunate to play for such incredible fans who have supported me from the moment I arrived. Initially, it wasn’t easy for me to arrive in another country other than Italy and try to learn the language, but little by little, I’ve grown up, and I’m enjoying life here in Paris thanks to the club, my teammates and the fans. I hope to stay here for many years and make history.”
Describing himself as calm and reserved, Gigi reveals his off-field passions. As with many footballers, video games provide moments of relaxation away from the pressure of match day and training. Uninterested in nightlife despite what Paris offers, he embraces a serene lifestyle, appreciating a quieter life. “I like to live a quiet life; I train and spend the rest of my time with my girlfriend and family,” he says. “I enjoy tennis and have a passion for video games, but I prefer to stay out of the limelight.
“My parents taught me respect and humility, which have been necessary to get to the level I am today, but I try to remain grounded. I have to thank my family, who taught me the true values of life.”
Life in Paris has proven to be the perfect fit for Gigi and his partner Alessia. The city is the world’s fashion capital and boasts a rich cultural heritage. Its numerous museums, restaurants, cafés, and parks offer a surfeit of activities to experience the best of French culture. However, it’s not simply the charms of Paris that have made his move a smooth transition; Gigi is grateful to the fans and his teammates for making his time in the French capital so enjoyable.
“Paris is beautiful,” he says. “Life here is extraordinary, and there’s everything you could ever need or want to do. It’s an incredible city, and we’ve settled in well. I am proud to represent the city and people of Paris and would love to make history for this club.”
Family is of paramount importance to Gigi. As he reflects on his early years and move from Naples to Milan, he acknowledges the importance of those challenges in shaping his career. The unwavering support of his family, coaches, and teammates in Milan ensured a seamless transition and the start of what would become a remarkable journey.
“Having family around you is one of the most important things in life, because it makes you feel like you’re always at home,” he says. “When I left Naples, it wasn’t easy because I left many friends and family behind. The people I met in Milan were extraordinary, but the first few months were difficult. Slowly but surely, I got used to my new life — it was an important time in my career.”
Gigi’s girlfriend, Alessia — an interior designer from Naples — has been an ever-present source of support throughout the last five years. “I must also thank her because she always makes me feel calm,” he says, emphasising the importance of a stable and supportive relationship. “My relationship is important to me, and I’m proud to have a girl like her by my side.”
As we look toward the future, Gigi aims to continue growing as a footballer and a person. Winning at the highest level will always remain his priority, but leaving an indelible mark on PSG and Italian football history would prove a dream come true. “Only God knows what the future holds,” he says. “But I hope to continue winning and make history with Italy and this magnificent football club.”
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