Who is Wilfried Gnonto? Leeds signing praised by Mancini but still waiting for PL debut

As England suffered their UEFA Nations League relegation at the hands of Italy, there was the unusual sight of one Premier League player replacing another for the Azzurri.

Italy have had only six Premier League representatives in their last four tournament squads, but here they had four involved in just one game against Gareth Southgate’s side. Jorginho and Emerson are familiar faces, with the Brazil-born pair both involved in the Euro 2020 final when still at Chelsea, though the latter has since crossed London to join West Ham United.

The other two, however, are brand new names for Premier League audiences. Scamacca is also at West Ham, and has opened his account in the Europa Conference League, but the man who replaced him, Leeds United youngster Wilfried Gnonto, is still waiting to make his bow in English football.

After his late cameo at the San Siro on Friday, Gnonto had a far bigger role to play on Monday night as Italy beat Hungary to top their Nations League group. The 18-year-old laid on a goal for Giacomo Raspadori after being handed a start at Puskas Arena, and manager Roberto Mancini was full of praise for both players.

“We had two kids upfront tonight, so if these lads maintain that quality and improve over the next two years, they can become devastating,” the former Manchester City boss said .There was youth to be seen throughout the team, with strike-partner Raspadori just 22, 24-year-old Federico Dimarco getting the second goal, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma not turning 24 himself until February.

With Italy missing out on a second successive World Cup, Mancini appears to have decided it’s time to look to the future, and Gnonto could well be part of that. And the next phase of his development could begin on Sunday, with a Leeds United debut against Aston Villa potentially on the cards.

Will Gnonto become a Leeds regular this season? Have your say in the comments section

Wilfried Gnonto scored his first Italy goal against Germany in June

Wilfried Gnonto scored his first Italy goal against Germany in June
Getty Images)

Gnonto signed for Leeds on transfer deadline day in a move which may have been lost in the other commotion around some Premier League big-hitters. The undisclosed fee has been reported as £5m or less – significantly lower (and lower-profile) than Manchester United’s move for Antony and Chelsea’s deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the same day.

“Playing in the Premier League is something I’ve always wanted and that has driven me to work even more, I can’t wait to see the fans and help the team,” he said upon signing. “The way Leeds play is incredible and I hope I can fit well, it’s a game with a lot of power and speed which is good for me because I am this type of player.”

The teenager spent time in Inter Milan’s academy, but when he became Italy’s youngest ever goalscorer he did so without having played a minute of football in his home country. Born near the Italian-Swiss border, it was in Switzerland where he made his competitive top-flight debut after leaving Inter for FC Zurich in 2020.

He made his Zurich debut in October of that year, two weeks before his 17th birthday, and scored his first senior goal towards the end of the 2020-21 season. Gnonto really came into his own last season, though, scoring nine goals as Andre Breitenreiter’s team won their first league title in 13 years, and clubs from Germany and Italy had been linked before Leeds won the race.

The teenager came off the bench in Italy's victory over England

The teenager came off the bench in Italy’s victory over England
Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

“He is a boy, he is 18 years old and he should not be put under too much pressure,” Mancini said in June, when Gnonto scored his first Italy goal in just his second start for the Azzurri. “He has to grow quietly. For his age, he knows how to play football like few other players and is very fast.

“If he grows calmly, without too much pressure on him, he can show his important qualities and he is an intelligent boy, he can grow. His best role is second striker, but he can also play on the wing.”

Leeds, meanwhile, have been patient with their newest arrival. His first taste of English football came for the under-21 side in a 6-2 victory over Southampton’s youngsters, with first-teamers including Patrick Bamford and Liam Cooper also featuring on a weekend when the Premier League meeting with Manchester United was postponed.

While he wasn’t on target, a perfect dummy run helped Crysencio Summerville find the net for Leeds and he looked lively in the comfortable victory. A senior bow surely isn’t far away, especially given his efforts during the international break.

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