Leeds United man returns to Under 21s despite form and previous senior international experience

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Leeds United attacker Willy Gnonto has been called up again for international duty but for Italy's Under 21s rather than the senior side.

The 20-year-old already has 13 senior caps to his name after breaking into the Italy side at the tender age of 18 while at FC Zürich. His June 14 goal against Germany made him the youngest goalscorer for Italy, breaking a record held since 1958 by Bruno Nicolè. Gnonto appearanced in 10 consecutive internationals and then three of the next four of the Azzurri's games, before a combination of an ankle injury and his situation at Leeds intervened. Gnonto sat out the October European qualifiers against Malta and England and upon his return to fitness found himself back with the Under 21s in November.

Games against San Marino and the Republic of Ireland saw the winger score four goals and add an assist and he now has five Under 21 goals from his five caps. Boss Carmine Nunziata has selected Gnonto again for the March games against Latvia and Turkey. The Latvia clash will be played at the Dino Manuzzi Stadium in Cesena on Friday March 22, and on Tuesday March 26 they take on Turkey in Ferrara, the home of Serie C side SPAL.

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Gnonto's season at Leeds has undergone a dramatic turnaround after a difficult and controversial start. A desire to leave in a summer transfer to Everton led to him informing boss Daniel Farke that he could not travel to play at Birmingham City and Gnonto was subsequently removed from the first team dressing room and training plans. An apology to Farke led to a second chance, although Gnonto found game time and impact harder to come by than many would have imagined in the Championship, as Crysencio Summerville and Daniel James held down the wing spots with impressive form.

But Gnonto has roared back to form and prominence in 2024, scoring five goals in five February outings, with an assist at Swansea City to boot. He was on target again in Leeds' 2-0 win last time out at Sheffield Wednesday. His resurgence has left Farke with a smile on his face, in light of their early-season difficulties. "It was a difficult moment for the club [at the start of the season]. The spotlight was on him and he had to handle the situation. There was not social media when I played, it was much easier. You have to be perfect in this age. It's so, so difficult when you are in the spotlight. But they are living a privileged life and have to grow up. Willy has developed his personality. It helps you grow up when you go through these difficult times. He feels much more settled and confident. He enjoys his role. He has scored goals in the last few games and everyone is singing his game and I'm delighted for him."

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