Arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time Gianluigi Buffon is a sportsman of the highest order combining sportsmanship, ability, class and skill in equal measure. At 40 years of age he is still a commanding presence, having played over 1000 professional matches he will finally play his final game for the ‘Old Lady’, Juventus Football Club against Hellas Verona lifting his 9th Serie A title in the process.
Having made his debut in the top flight at just 17 for the once mighty Parma FC, it was clear that Buffon was a gifted individual, rarely does such raw talent, passion and professionalism combine. Gianluigi actually begin his youth career as a midfielder at age 13, but after being inspired by Cameroonian goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono‘s heroic performances during the 1990 World Cup in Italy and with both of the Parma youth goalkeepers suffering injuries Gigi stepped up.
Gianluigi Buffon fulfilled his destiny and within just 2 weeks he had already taken over as number 1 youth prospect. A position he held until he began training with the first team at age 16, the following season Gigi made his Serie A debut against eventual champions AC Milan despite being just 17 years and 295 days old he performed like a warrior, making big saves against the legendary Roberto Baggio and George Weah both of whom would go on to collect Ballon d’Or’s in their respective careers.
Gianluigi Buffon went on to win the UEFA cup, Supercoppa Italiana, 2 x Serie A goalkeeper of the year as well as his first Ballon d’Or nomination and a runner up finish in the Serie A to the mighty Juventus. It took a world record fee of €52 million to convince Parma to sell Buffon to Juventus in 2001, which remained Juventus largest transfer fee paid until the purchase of Gonzalo Higuain 15 years later.
2001 – World Record Transfer
What followed was a reign of dominance as Juventus had the best defence in world football at a time when the Serie A was at it’s dizzying heights of popularity, the entire Juventus squad was littered with world beaters. In Buffon’s first season Juventus went on to collect the Scudetto with ease with Gigi collecting his third Serie A goalkeeper of the year award.
2002-2003 – Heroics & Heartbreak
In his second season Juventus reached the Champions League final against rival Serie A powerhouse AC Milan, despite saving two penalties in the shoot-out and putting in a heroic performance, including a freakish reaction save after a close range header from the clinical Pippo Inzaghi in regulation time as Pippo looked on in utter disbelief. Juventus lost the final in heartbreaking fashion, which would become a recurring theme over the coming decade.
On the way to the final Buffon also saved a Luis Figo penalty to go past Real Madrid in the semi finals 4-3 on aggregate. Juventus claimed the Serie A title again that year with the best defence in the league and Buffon collect another Serie A goalkeeper of the year award. But the pain from the Champions League defeat still lingered.
2004-2005 – Bump in the Road
Buffon’s third season with Juventus was disappointing as they could only achieve a third place finish in Serie A amid internal unrest at the club. With Marcelo Lippi leaving to coach the national team Fabio Capello stepped in to restore order and the Old Lady responded with Buffon claiming his 3rd Serie A title in 4 years. Juventus were knocked out in the quarter finals of the Champions League against eventual winners Liverpool who had destiny on their side as they won the final despite being 3-0 down at half time against the might of AC Milan.
2006 – Injury to World Champion
Buffon suffered a dislocated shoulder during a preseason training match against AC Milan and missed half of the season. Milan loaned Juventus Christian Abbiati to replace Buffon in a great show of sportsmanship against their great rival. A decision they came to regret as Juventus again claimed the Serie A title.
Buffon returned in January more driven than ever as he collected his 4th Serie A title, such were his performances he collected his third IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper & 6th Serie A Best Goalkeeper award. Buffon’s form continued into the World Cup as Italy reached the final and played out a thrilling match against France despite having a goal disallowed and a penalty awarded against them in the first 5 minutes, the Italians never lost faith. The passion overflowed as the legendary Zinedine Zidane saw red after head butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in one of the World Cup’s more bizarre but memorable moments.
Despite this the match remained level at 1-1 as both teams gave everything. Unable to break the deadlock the match went to penalties Italy kept their nerve to lift their 4th World Cup trophy. In recognition for his performances during this season Buffon finished second in the Ballon d’Or behind compatriot Fabio Cannavaro.
“On the field I defend our colours.” – Gianluigi Buffon
In May of 2006, several Juventus players including Buffon, were accused of illegally betting on Serie A matches. Buffon voluntarily co-operated and agreed to be questioned by authorities. He vehemently denied ever placing bets on Italian football matches. Ultimately Buffon was cleared of any wrong-doing by the Italian Football Federation by June of 2007.
“I believe in doing the right things; that is my character and personality.” – Gianluigi Buffon
Part of this investigation resulted in the Calciopoli scandal in which several teams were accused of influencing the appointment of referees. Despite not having much evidence Juventus were relegated to Serie B and docked 9 points which was ment to make it more difficult for them to gain promotion to Serie A in their first season. What the Italian Federation didn’t count on was the loyalty of the Juventus players, whom refused to vacate the club and were determined to return them to their rightful place at the pinnacle of Italian football.
Buffon stayed with Juventus along with Del Piero, Nedved & Trezeguet which saw them gain legend status as a result of their fierce loyalty. With these stars still at their disposal Juventus went on to win Serie B and gain promotion straight back to Serie A.
2007-2010 – Calciopoli Struggles
Cladio Ranieri took the helm on Juventus’ return to Serie A, after losing much of the quality in their squad they finished a respectable third. Ranieri could not return Juventus to their former dominance and after a string of bad results was sacked. over the next few years Juventus struggled to reach the top of Serie A with a number of questionable managerial appointments after Ferrara, Zaccheroni and Delneri all failed to ascend the Serie A table. It wasn’t until Antonio Conte was appointed and Juventus relocated to the newly built Juventus Stadium that their fortunes improved.
“I have not lost an awful lot in my life, but the defeats have taught me more than the victories.” – Gianluigi Buffon
2011-2018 – Era of Domination
With Conte as manager, Juventus went unbeaten for the entire 2011–12 Serie A season. The first team to go the season unbeaten in the current 38-game format. As underwhelming as the previous 4 years were, 2011 onwards saw an unprecedented era of dominance from the Old Lady who went on to win 8 Serie A titles including the latest & Gianluigi Buffon’s last in 2018. Smashing numerous records along the way. They also reached another Champions League final against Barcelona which they lost 1-3 continuing the ‘curse’ of the Champions League which is the one major trophy Buffon has failed to win in line with Juventus’ historic bad luck in the competition. Despite reaching the final 9 times, Juventus have only lifted the trophy on 2 occasions.
Most recently in the 2018 semi final against Real Madrid, Juventus were on the receiving end of a controversial penalty decision in the last seconds of the match after coming back from 3-0 down, the match was about to go to extra time. In the ensuing melee after the referees questionable decision. Buffon was sent off for apparently pushing the referee. Effectively ending his career in bizarre a circumstance as Zidane over a decade before him. Not only was it strange that Zidane was the current coach of Real Madrid, but Gianluigi Buffon also made this quote when asked about his retirement in 2017;
“How do I imagine my last ever game? Maybe I’ll go out like Zinedine Zidane, head-butting someone on the pitch!” – Gianluigi Buffon
All eyes are on Gianluigi as this season draws to a close the transfer speculation has been wild, as a plethora of clubs have come forward all clambering for his services, such is his influence and respect on and off the field. Only time will tell what Gigi’s next move will be, the only thing for certain is that he will give his all with class and dignity wherever he ends up.