Wilfried Gnonto: Former Inter wonderkid playing prominent role at top of Swiss football


To fully understand the impact teenage striker Willy Gnonto has had on certain sections of the FC Zurich fanbase, Marco Schonbi’s YouTube channel is a good place to start.

It’s just a small channel, with less than a handful of subscribers and only one video – “Willy Gnonto Song”.

Sung and composed by Albis Ryder, the song is accompanied by a cartoon image of Gnonto dancing, and is an ode to the young star helping lead Zurich’s march to the Swiss title.

“This is Willy Gnonto, the Italian ‘SuperJoker'”, begins the song, also available on Spotify and Apple Music, while the chorus ends with the phrase “Dribbing, shoot, goal, pronto!”.

Gnonto, however, is neither a cartoon character – even though Ryder’s song also compares him to Looney Tunes character Taz – nor a gamer who can be described in such basic terms when it comes to his abilities to play. footballer.

Yes, he’s a player whose dribbling ability made him stand out from an early age as he rose through the ranks at Inter, and his goal has really shined this season, but to present him as no being that a dribbler who appears with the odd goal would be unfair.

Gnonto’s game intelligence and movement in the final third allows him to appear in so many goalscoring positions, while his versatility in terms of playing down the front line has proven invaluable since his spell in the higher ranks.

In some quarters he has been compared to Franck Ribery, although the 18-year-old has his own idols he seeks to learn from.

“I’m inspired by Raheem Sterling, but I play football thanks to Lionel Messi,” he said Cronache of Spogliatoio. In another interview with FC Zurich’s website, he added about Messi: “For me, he is the best in history.”

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Gnonto may be becoming a fan favorite in Switzerland, but his footballing history begins in the town of Verbania, overlooking Lake Maggiore in northwestern Italy.

Born to Ivorian parents, Gnonto kicked a ball as soon as he remembered.

“My father was a worker, my mother a waitress, and they never made me want for anything,” he explained.

“We lived near a small pitch. Maybe it was fate, I don’t know, but when I looked out the window I could only see the ball. I often went downstairs to play until late in the evening .

“Growing up, it was school, football, school and more football!”

This school was in Suno, around 80 kilometers from Milan, and it was there that Gnonto’s talent was first spotted by Inter at the age of nine.

“After two seasons at Suno, a football school affiliated with Inter, I had a few trials at the club,” he said. “I went to Appiano (Inter training ground) once a week and then came home. In the end, they signed me.”

It quickly became clear that Gnonto had what it took to turn professional, and he thrived at all levels of the age bracket, forming a strong strike partnership with fellow Italian international Sebastiano Esposito.

Luckily, Esposito also ends up in Switzerland, where he is on loan at Basel, but his move came 12 months after Gnonto decided to leave the San Siro side.

“I wanted to play,” he said of the decision to reject a professional contract at Inter and instead join Zurich in a deal worth €200,000 in the summer of 2020.

“Before coming here, I thought I had always wanted to play for Inter. For me, there was only the Nerazzurri shirt.

“But the management here immediately made me understand that I would have the right space to evolve. At my age, you can’t sit on the bench.”

Gnonto started life at his new club playing for the Under-21s, but after scoring in each of his first two games he was quickly promoted to the first team, where he provided an assist – well than via a long-range shot that deflected off a team-mate – on his debut against FC Vaduz.

It was the first of four assists he provided as he made regular appearances from the bench, before on the final day of the season he found the net for the first time in his senior career , again against Vaduz.

To say it opened the floodgates would be an overstatement, but Gnonto’s record in front of goal improved significantly in his second season at the club.

He has netted 10 times in all competitions, including a 10-match run between November and March where he scored seven goals, including the winner against defending champions Young Boys and a strike against second-placed Basel.

The teenager’s form, which has seen him score a goal or assist every 91 minutes in 2021-22, helped Andre Breitenreiter’s side open a 12-point gap at the top of the table so that they are closing in on their first league title since 2009. .

Gnonto has been nearly ubiquitous, only missing a solitary game by suspension, although he is still widely used as an impact substitute.

Gnonto carried that form into international play, where he scored five goals in six qualifying matches for Italy as they secured their place in the 2022 European U19 Championship to be played in Slovakia in July.

It should be part of an interesting summer for Gnonto, whose contract at Zurich ends in 2023, leading a number of Serie A clubs to closely monitor his situation.

“My motto is ‘always have fun’. Whatever I do, I try to have fun,” Gnonto told Zurich’s website in a recent interview, and he certainly seems to be enjoying his football at the moment.

If the catchy songs on YouTube are to be believed, the club’s fans are also delighted to have the ‘Italian Superjoker’ in their ranks.

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