Gianluigi Buffon made his 1000th competitive appearance in Italy’s 2-0 World Cup qualifier win over Albania at the weekend. Another milestone for a keeper with a genuine claim to be the ‘best of all time’. After all, if you’re nickname is ‘Superman’, you best be good.
New Number One
It’s November 1995 and the UK has a new number one. Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise has just been replaced by Robson and Jerome. Meanwhile, Italy too are about to get a new number one. For the visit of Milan, Parma manager Nevio Scala handed a first team debut to a 17 year-old Gianluigi Buffon. The young goalkeeper started as he meant to continue, impressing with a clean sheet in an otherwise forgettable 0-0 draw. Mercifully the singing careers of Jerome and Robson wouldn’t match the success and longevity of the soon to be Italy number one.
Buffon would go on to make 220 appearances for the ‘Gialloblú’, collecting a Coppa Italia and Uefa Cup along the way. Gigi, as he’s also known, also made his international debut whilst with the team from the Ennio Tardini Stadium. A 31st minute substitute in a World Cup qualifying play-off away in Russia, Buffon was beaten on the night only by his team mate. Fabio Cannavaro putting through his own net in a 1-1 draw. Italy would win the second leg 1-0 to advance to France 98 with Parma’s first choice keeper travelling as his country’s third option. It would be the first of five World Cups from the man from Tuscany.
Harry Potter arrived on the big screen for the first time in 2001. It was our Italian ‘Superman’ who stole the headlines though, with a summer blockbuster move to Juventus. The £33m fee the largest ever paid for a goalkeeper. 612 apps later and the Tuscan is still casting a spell as custodian of the Old Lady’s nets. Even when the Turin giants were punished for their part in the ‘Calciopoli’ match fixing scandal with relegation to Serie B, Buffon stayed loyal to the cause. Adding a second tier title to the now seven, and counting, he has picked up in Italy’s top league.
It is with the Italian national side though that Gigi achieved his crowning glory. The 2006 World Cup in Germany. The Juve stopper only conceded twice in the entire competition, itself a record for a finalist. Indeed Zinedine Zidane’s penalty in the final was the only goal scored against Italy by an opposition player. A Christian Zaccardo own goal against USA the only other time Buffon’s defence was breached. Lifting the World Cup that year is an undoubted highlight in an international career spanning 168 appearances. The recent qualifier against Albania is a step on the road to possible sixth World Cup. As Italy’s most capped player of all time, Buffon is hoping to end his international career in Russia, where it started, over two decades earlier.
In terms of all-time greats Gianluigi Buffon may be the world’s greatest ever keeper. A career of longevity peppered with many honours. One notable piece of silverware has thus far eluded him though. Two Champions League Final defeats are the closest the Juve skipper has come to winning Europe’s top prize. With the ‘Old Lady’ of Italian football still in this seasons competition, the ‘Old Man’ may just add that missing trophy to his collection. If the Italian champions do win in Cardiff come May, with Buffon as club Captain, the trophy will never have been lifted by safer hands.
Off the field Gigi is involved with, and has done work for, many charity organisations. After every game he signs the captain’s armband he wore during the match which then gets auctioned off for charity. He has spoken openly about suffering bouts of depression following defeat in the Champions League Final of 2003, overcoming this with the help of a psychologist. He has even displayed his poetic talents, writing an ode to the goalmouth he protects (honestly, he did!). Buffon may not be the next Robert Burns but with his looks he could turn his hand to a bit of modelling, if he’s looking for a second job. He certainly has built a strong portfolio of television advertising campaigns and may well be destined for a role in Italy’s vast football media.
For now though, his job remains keeping the ball out of Juventus’ and Italy’s respective nets. A job for which, after one thousand games, he has become very adept. Gianluigi Buffon may well be in the twilight of his career, but when you’re ‘Superman’, you could go on forever.