Who is Wilfried Gnonto? The ‘new Raheem Sterling’ wanted by Leeds

Carlo Garganese
Carlo Garganese Updated: 16 Aug 2022 11:22 BST 5 min read
Wilfried Gnonto, Italy, 2021-22

Italy may have won Euro 2020 but the country has been crying out for some new attacking talent for years now.

This was highlighted by the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup following a shock playoff defeat to Macedonia in March.

But the emergence of 18-year-old wonderkid Wilfried Gnonto has dried some of Italy’s World Cup tears.

Gnonto exploded onto the scene for the Azzurri during the UEFA Nations League in June.

He is now being heavily linked with a move to Leeds United in the transfer window.

So what do we know about the attacker?

What position does Wilfried Gnonto play in?

Gnonto is an attacker who is capable of playing in various roles across the frontline.

The teenager considers his best position to be as a support striker in a front two, where he is utilised for club side FC Zurich.

But he has also shown himself to be just as comfortable on both the right and left wing of a 4-3-3, which is where he played for Italy in June’s international matches.

How good is Wilfried Gnonto?

Gnonto has long been tipped for stardom. Born in Italy to parents from the Ivory Coast, Gnonto grew up in the Inter Milan academy.

He was regarded as one of the stars of the Nerazzurri’s youth team, but he decided to leave Inter in 2020 to join Zurich.

Inter offered Gnonto a professional contract but the youngster was reportedly unimpressed that fellow youth player Sebastiano Esposito was promoted to the senior squad by then-manager Antonio Conte instead of him.

Gnonto felt that his development was better served outside of Italy, which has had huge problems in the last decade when it comes to offering young (Italian) players opportunities to play.

The decision to move to Switzerland proved to be a masterstroke from Gnonto. After cutting his teeth for Zurich in 2020-21, Gnonto truly exploded last season.

Despite only turning 18 in November 2021, Gnonto played a key role in Zurich winning the Swiss League. He scored 10 goals in 36 games in all competitions, despite being often utilised off the bench.

Indeed, 24 of his 33 league games were as a substitute as Gnonto proved himself to be a livewire attacking tiring defences in the second-half. The teenager was the second highest-scoring substitute in Europe in 2021-22.

Gnonto is blessed with blistering pace and is an exceptional dribbler, capable of going both right and left.

Standing at 5ft 5in, he is very short but he is very stocky and possesses impressive strength despite his short stature.

Swiss football Scout and journalist Oliver Zesiger told The Italian Football Podcast: “He is very agile, very quick, lightning acceleration. He is a very good dribbler, very good in front of goal.

“For his age, he is already quite polished. He has a very bright future. “He is very brave, very confident in himself. He looks for the one-on-one duels and is not scared to try things that may not come off.

“And as a person, he is very well liked by his teammates. He has the right type of personality to go very far.

“He is mature, although he did break down crying last season when he came on as a substitute and was then substituted in the same game for tactical reasons!”

Gnonto has been compared in style of play to England and Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling, a player who the Italian admits inspired him.

Gnonto has been compared to Raheem Sterling

Gnonto has been compared to Raheem Sterling

"I'm inspired by Raheem Sterling, but I play football thanks to Lionel Messi. He is the best in history,” Gnonto said.

Gnonto, who has also been compared to Franck Ribery, played against his idol Sterling during June’s UEFA Nations League calendar.

The teenager made an incredible impact on international football. He was handed his Italy debut in the 1-1 draw with Germany, coming off the bench and immediately creating Lorenzo Pellegrini’s opener within five minutes.

He then also impressed in his first Italy start in the 2-1 win versus Hungary – twice going close to scoring – and as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Sterling’s England at Molineux.

He scored his first international goal in the reverse fixture against Germany, despite Italy losing 5-2.

Which clubs are interested in Gnonto?

Gnonto has unsurprisingly been linked to a host of clubs since exploding with Italy in the Nations League.

A number of top transfer journalists have reported strong interest from Premier League clubs, while Sassuolo, Fiorentina and Torino have been named as admirers from Serie A.

Leeds are now considered favourites to sign Gnonto and are in negotiations with Zurich for him.

Gnonto will almost certainly leave Zurich this summer as his contract expires next year and the Swiss club want to cash in on him.

When does Gnonto’s contract expire?

Gnonto’s contract at Zurich expires on June 30, 2023

How old is Gnonto?

Gnonto was born on 5 November, 2003. He is 18.

What is Gnonto’s height?

Gnonto is 170cm, or around 5ft 5in.

What is Gnonto’s weight?

Gnonto weighs 71 kilograms, or around 11st 1lb.

What is Gnonto’s Instagram?

Gnonto’s Instagram has 91,000 followers as of August 2022.

https://www.instagram.com/willy.gnonto/?hl=en