Nothing stands out about Gigi Buffon, because everything is spectacular. Loyalty, agility and marketability; when it comes to any and every facet of being a great footballer, Buffon has excelled. There is perhaps one thing missing from that list which he also has in droves though, longevity.
Amazingly, it doesn’t get spoken about a lot, perhaps because his career is still ongoing. However, while the likes of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Francesco Totti were lauded for remaining at the top level well beyond their peak, at 43 years of age, Buffon has surpassed them all.
Buffon showed that he still has plenty to give at the Stadio MAPEI on May 12, with Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi looking to put the light out on Juventus’ Champions League hopes from the penalty spot. Roberto De Zerbi’s side had dominated the early exchanges and looked like successfully preying on the Bianconeri’ supremely dented confidence after a 3-0 humbling at the hands of AC Milan, their direct rivals for fourth spot, days earlier.
With Andrea Pirlo’s head already on the chopping block in the eyes of some, his decision to start Buffon just a day after it was announced that his second spell in Turin would be ending once the season is over, was seen as an emotionally-charged decision, aimed at making his long-term friend and former teammate’s goodbye central to the closing narrative of the campaign.
But with quick thinking and a spring to his left, Buffon proved his doubters wrong, and not for the first time, as he saved Berardi’s kick. There are so many examples of unwritten barriers in football, mostly centred around age. For some, move into your 30s and your career suddenly becomes more disposable and, in a strange way, worth less. There is nothing written about over 40s, because they are so rare. Buffon has certainly broken the mould.
Fully fledged adults will have no idea what football is like without him, but perhaps the most remarkable point of the next stage of his career is that, even now, he still hasn’t said he will retire. The offers will come, and no doubt be considered.
Atalanta who, unlike Juventus, have already guaranteed their spot in the Champions League, are on the rumoured list of admirers. As is Jose Mourinho, who hasn’t yet stepped through the door at the Stadio Olímpico to take charge of Roma. His Italy career, ended by the Azzurri’s failure to reach the World Cup in 2018, should have had a beautiful ending. Russia was meant to be his swansong but, even then, he couldn’t bring himself to turn his back on his country.
Buffon is, at least in part, behind the decision to find pastures new after Juve. Most footballers his age are on the beach, sitting with a cold beer or counting their medals and mulling over appearance records. Buffon has more of both than most, he is one of the best European goalkeepers ever, and nobody has earned a relaxing life post-football than him. But for the Champions League (three defeats in the final) and the European Championships, he’s won it all.
The feeling of uselessness, watching Wojciech Szczesny relegate him to the role of bit-part player, stirred something in him. There is nothing stopping Buffon making the next step in what is now an unprecedented career. Football has become modern, a business filled with contracts and obligations, almost around Buffon. When he started at Parma as a teenager in 1995, the game was different. He has always adapted, that is why he’s managed to continue.
A strange interlude at Paris Saint-Germain aside, Buffon has been wedded to Juve for 20 years. That is enough for reason to roll out any and all of the fanfare any legendary figure gets at a football club. In Italy, they look after their own arguably better than anywhere, You can’t walk down a street in certain parts of Rome and avoid a homage to Totti and the name Maldini, now reaching a third generation, is sacred in the Rossoneri half of Milan. In Naples, Diego Maradona’s death commenced a period of mourning.
Yet, despite all that service, winning title after title and developing into a leader who helped oversee more than a decade of recent dominance, Buffon has never quite been revered on that level. Marcello Lippi, former Juve boss and the coach who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, once said: “when you say Juventus, you mean Del Piero, when you say Del Piero, you mean Juventus.”
Both men were vital for the club over a long period and both stayed to help them rebuild in Serie B after the calciopoli match fixing scandal just weeks after celebrating winning the biggest tournament in the world. At the time, though, Buffon was at the peak of his powers; he was just 28 years old and had offers to go elsewhere.
Without a doubt, Del Piero would have too as he still had more than enough to give. Buffon, however, was the best on the planet in his position and still the holder of the goalkeeping transfer record. He moved to Juve from Parma in 2001 for £32.5million. It was an obscene amount at the time for anyone, but unheard of for a player in his position. So much so that Ederson, who moved to Manchester City from Benfica in 2017, was the first to break it, 16 years on.
There is little doubt that Juventus love Buffon and the feeling is mutual. When walking around Turin, it becomes obvious. But considering everything he has achieved and the fact he appears to be planning to achieve even more, he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. They say true artists aren’t appreciated until they are gone, maybe that’ll prove the case for Buffon. But his career may still have yards to run even now. It is about time he was truly immortalised, because it doesn’t quite feel like he has been.
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