Leeds never more grateful for being pied now Willy Gnonto is tearing up the Prem…

John Nicholson
Wilfried Gnonto celebrates scoring for Leeds United.

Being ditched by Bamba Dieng turned out to be a huge blessing for Leeds after they moved for Wilfried Gnonto instead. Gary Neville loves him and so does Johnny Nic.

‘What’s So Good About the Italy forward?’ you ask? Here’s John Nicholson…


Who’s this then?
Degnand Wilfried Gnonto is a 19-year-old, 5’8” Italian winger, currently playing for Leeds United. Born in Verbania, in Piedmont, in the northwest of Italy, put simply, he is one of the most exciting young players in Europe right now.

He played football as a wee boy for Baveno and Suno then in 2012, aged nine, he joined Inter Milan’s academy however, by the time he was 17, he was approached by Zurich who took him into their reserve team. However, he quickly shone, playing only three games for Zurich II before moving up into the first team. He made 74 appearances in just over two seasons and scored 12 times, winning their first championship title for 13 years. In that season he scored 10 and assisted in five goals which emitted enough stink of class into the football firmament for Leeds United to get up on their hind legs, sniff the air, and take out their wallet.

In September last year he signed a five-year deal with Leeds in return for just £3.8million with the Swiss side negotiating a 15% sell on. The fee was so low because Wilf was in the last year of his contract. Zurich had wanted £17million but relented as the end of the transfer window loomed into view. Given he is sooner than later going to become an extremely expensive player, that 15% will generate a chunky sum of money.

He made his international debut in June in the Nations League game against Germany, making the assist for Italy’s goal in a 1-1 draw. He scored in the return leg, a 5-2 away loss to Germany, to become the youngest goalscorer for Italy, aged 18 years and 222 days, breaking the previous record held by Bruno Nicole since 1958.

Wilfried Gnonto celebrates against Man Utd

Why The Love?
So far, for Leeds, he’s scored four times in 13 appearances and on Wednesday night, netted in the first 56 seconds at Old Trafford.

As a right footer he usually plays on the left for Leeds, cutting in to shoot but in fact he’s played in seven different forward positions. On the right he can drive to the byline to cross. He’s actually scored most goals and played most games in his career as a second striker. So Leeds have got a very flexible player who can be shifted around the pitch and be effective pretty much anywhere in the front third.

Although Wiki says he’s 5’8” he looks shorter when up against the typical Premier League six-footer. He’s got a low centre of gravity and seems to be able to wriggle out of the tightest marking. What makes him so exciting is how he operates at speed with the ball. Everything is done with energy and when you can keep the ball stuck to your foot the way Willy can, then you’re bound to be an exciting player that any football fan will love. He’s certainly lit up Leeds’ faltering season.

He seemed to have surprised some defences with his sprinting speed and his quick thinking. His goal against Cardiff – a flying scissor kick – was especially impressive. More ballet than football really. It sent the level of adrenalin that only football can still, even in this grotesque era of financial bollix, flush into your veins.

While the Leeds fans have managed to immediately invent an oh-so-predictable racially stereotypical song about him, no doubt feeling very pleased with themselves for reaching for the most cliched of tropes – though they’ve been asked not to sing it – he seems to be genuinely enthused by this opportunity he’s been given in West Yorkshire.

We are living through an era of pragmatic men’s football, players who will take on a man and beat him are all too rare and yet they are the one thing craved by most fans. They are always fan favourites.

It seems impossible to believe a side that has such a brilliant young player in their ranks will get relegated. If they do, one thing you can be sure of, no-one will be seeing Mr G in the Championship next year.

Three great moments
Pick that one out…

Pick that one out II…

It’s easy to see what he’s so good at…

Future days?
Pat Nevin recently spoke about him in glowing terms saying he’s ‘absolutely fantastic’ and ‘something special’ and you can be sure that far richer clubs are already jingling the change in their pockets, twitching their lips and purring at this bright new star, while preparing a huge bid for him this summer. Talent like this is not only rare, it is expensive and you can be sure those with the deepest pockets will be testing Leeds’ resolve to keep him at some point. However, he is on a five-year contract, four of which will be outstanding this summer. It’s going to take a bonkers money bid to get him out of West Yorkshire in 2023 but don’t bet against it.

There’s nothing coltish or naive about him as a 19-year-old, he already looks like a mature player, makes good choices and is full of surprises. He’s intelligent and plays with his head up, sees space and drives into it. He’s got a tight turning circle and uses it to get behind a closer marker. On top of that, he’s got a real burst of pace, superb ball control and is built out of heavy metal meat and solid bone to hold his own in a physical game. Plenty have already tried to bully him off the ball and plenty have already failed.

There is definitely the fearlessness of youth about his game. After initially being bought as a development player, he’s way ahead of schedule and has already become an important first-team player. How a new manager uses him may be different from Jesse Marsch, but no-one can ignore a player that has such an effect on the play in every single game he appears.

When you’ve got one of those players who moves you to the edge of your seat as soon as he receives the ball, everyone wants to see them playing in every game.

England will doubtless be facing Willy G’s talents in their next Euro qualifiers and it will be another test for the young man. Whoever is playing right back for England, will have to be totally on their game.

Wilf, Willy, whatever you want to call him. He’s the best young player to watch this season and probably the best young player for the next couple of seasons too. A star is born.

Read more: Gary Neville drools over ‘absolutely fantastic’ Leeds star Ashley Young ‘booted the hell out of’