Wilfried Gnonto has rocketed onto the English football scene like a bolt from the blue, but Azzurri fans can assure you, he is just getting started.
The Leeds United forward gained plaudits of the highest order for his explosive man-of-the-match display against Cardiff City on Wednesday. He scored emphatically twice in the first half, to ensure his side booked themselves a place in the FA Cup fourth round.
Being a menace on the pitch is why he’s the perfect fit for Leeds as his raw playstyle intertwines with the football culture at the club. The directiveness to take on defenders like an old-school fantasista, along with the passion he plays with, is equally matched by the support he receives from the stands.
Gnonto is Italy’s youngest ever goalscorer, but the 19-year-old was writing his name into the calcio history books even before that fine moment, scoring at the U17 World Cup in Brazil aged only 15.
Inter had a star on their hands, and they knew it. Since joining at the age of nine, Willy was a crucial part of the Nerazzurri youth teams and found himself playing for the Primavera side at the time he first made national headlines.
But playing against those four years his senior allowed the boy’s appetite for men’s football to increase dramatically. This was much to the dismay of then-Inter manager Antonio Conte, who knew what promise he contained, but couldn’t guarantee first-team minutes.
So, he said arrivederci to Italy and Grüezi to Switzerland.
His chosen destination was FC Zurich. Whilst mainly featuring off the bench in his first year at the club, he was pivotal in helping them achieve their first league title in 13 years during his second, notching an impressive goal tally of ten whilst assisting five.
England has so far seen glimpses of what he can create, FCZ saw it all. The flexibility he showed meant he could be deployed anywhere across the front line, finding the most joy in behind either channel, mesmerizing the opposition with his low center of gravity and rapid pace.
Gnonto has proved to be irreplaceable at Der Stadtclub, who are a shadow of their former selves a mere eight months on from title glory, sitting rock bottom in the league. Minimal outgoings in the Summer suggest the underlying influence he possessed, that influence he is possessing on Leeds right now.