By George Overhill

11th Sep, 2023 | 5:10pm

Leeds United star Willy Gnonto held up as symbol of Italy struggles by manager

Leeds United star Willy Gnonto has been held up as emblematic of the reason why Italy are struggling internationally by Walter Zenga.

The well-travelled manager told Corriere dello Sport (11 September) that the 19-year-old “can’t find a place” at Leeds and suggested that if he is the sort of player the Azzurri are turning to in order to save a result it shows why they are in a difficult place.

Italy drew 1-1 with North Macedonia on Saturday (9 September), with Gnonto coming off the bench late on, to leave their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024 in the balance as they sit on four points, three behind Ukraine and nine behind England.

The one-time Wolves boss was asked why Italy failed to qualify for the last World Cup and were now struggling in the current campaign in an interview which mainly focused on him defending PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The 63-year-old answered: “Because football has levelled out a lot. And of course, if Gnonto enters the field, who can’t find a place at Leeds, we’ll have a few problems.”


From the outside it might look like a player in the Championship being called on to rescue a qualifying result is part of the issue, but if Gnonto had his way he would be back in the Premier League right now.

There are clearly collective failings in the Italian set up that suggest they haven’t replaced the previous generations adequately, and makes their Euro 2020 victory all the more surprising.

It is unfortunate for Gnonto, who has been selected for his country since he was an FC Zurich player, has been singled out, especially when he can find a place and is in fact almost a certain starter now his issues over a move have passed.

It arguably won’t help with the situation at Leeds United if there is interest in signing him again in January, when his agents appeared to be advising on his hold-out and transfer request during the summer window.

The youngster subsequently cleared the air with manager Daniel Farke and has been brought back into the side, staying past the transfer deadline when Luis Sinisterra did manage to force a move to Bournemouth.

Gnonto’s standing in the Italy squad was seen as part of the reason he was so intent on leaving at one point, but on current evidence it doesn’t appear there are a vast number of alternatives, so if he continues to perform at Elland Road he should probably be ok.

In other Leeds United news, Phil Hay has reported there is a “high likelihood” that a bizarrely expensive Whites player is set to leave the club permanently.