When Italy lost to North Macedonia in the playoffs and were forced to miss the World Cup finals for the second time in a row, manager Roberto Mancini vowed to rebuild his squad with the best players available.
Among other players hunted as part of this rebuild was Willy Gnonto, a potent young striker from Inter Milan’s youth systems who assisted FC Zurich in winning the Swiss championship the previous season. The player signed for Leeds United on the day of the transfer deadline earlier this month.
Gnonto was added to Italy’s senior squad by Mancini for the Finalissima game against Argentina at Wembley in June. Three days later, against Germany in the Nations League, Gnonto made his professional debut for his country.
At the young age of 18 years and 222 days, Gnonto broke the record for Italy’s youngest goal scorer, which had stood since 1958.
He also received a nomination for the Golden Boy prize this year, a prestigious accolade established by the Turin newspaper Tuttosport to identify Europe’s finest up-and-coming talent.
Gnonto breaks another record
After his start against Hungary in the Nations League, Gnonto became only the third player in post-war Italian football history to make three starts for the national football team before his 19th birthday. The other two being Giuseppe Bergomi and Davide Santon.
According to Joe Donnohue of Yorkshire Evening Post, the Leeds Dealing Day signing is now the youngest attacker to register 3 starts for Italy Senior Side before the age of 19.
Also, to our surprise, the player is yet to debut for his current club, Leeds United. This is highly unusual for a player with several caps for a large country like Italy.
His talent was evident from a young age. He joined Inter at the age of eight and quickly advanced, earning national development team call-ups. A standout at the 2019 U-17 World Cup in Brazil, Gnonto scored three goals.
At only 16, he left Inter in search of a smoother road to first-team football, and went directly into the Zurich squad, making his professional club debut before turning 17.
He scored eight goals in 33 games for Zurich last season as they won the Swiss Super League, also playing in the Champions League and Europa League qualification rounds before joining his newest club, Leeds.
He has only arrived in England this year, which may explain the club’s decision to not hand him a debut but rather allow him to acclimate to the league and the surroundings.
But as a regular first-team player in Zurich, Gnonto will undoubtedly want to play sooner rather than later.
Leeds fans are hopeful for him that he gets to play against Aston Villa. With what they’ve seen so far from him in international games, they are excited, to say the least.