Speaking to SI's Grant Wahl on the Planet Fútbol Podcast, Maldini, an iconic AC Milan and Italy defender, heaped praise on Donnarumma, the 18-year-old Milan and Azzurri goalkeeper who has been pegged as the heir apparent to Buffon. The elder Gigi just played his 1,000th game for both club and country in Italy's World Cup qualifying win over Albania, but with Donnarumma waiting in the wings, it doesn't appear there will be a drop-off at all for Italy when Buffon calls time on his international career.
Maldini recalled seeing a 12-year-old Donnarumma in AC Milan's academy and having an inclination that he'd be headed for greater things.
"He is talented, he is gifted," Maldini said. "We know, since he was 12, 13, because he was playing for the youth team in AC Milan, he has something that you see immediately, if you know about football, you see it. After Buffon, and I saw Buffon made his debut in Serie A against AC Milan, we tied 0-0 and he was incredible. He was only 16 years old. I can see the same in Donnarumma. He's even bigger, he's fast, and he's a nice guy. That's very important, because now they throw numbers around him like millions and millions and millions and you have to be a good guy to stay calm and think only what you have to do on the field."
Donnarumma started for Italy for the first time (in his third cap) in Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Netherlands in a friendly, giving Buffon a break and heeding his hero's words of advice.
"I am very happy to have made my full debut, but Gigi's still there. I thank him for all the advice he gives me in training. I am proud to wear this jersey," Donnarumma told reporters after the game. "Buffon told me to just relax, do what I'm doing and not try to invent anything new, as what I do already is fine. I am so proud to be here, I work hard week after week to improve, because you never stop learning. I soak in all the advice that I receive."