Buffon has produced some superhuman performances at Signal Iduna Park during his near 20-year career. Now the legendary goalkeeper will look to repeat these heroics again on Wednesday night.
Since famously keeping a clean sheet against an all-conquering AC Milan on his professional debut for Parma on November 19, 1995, Italy and Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon has come to be considered among the greatest goalkeepers ever to have graced the game.
After succeeding Luca Bucci as the No.1 at the Stadio Ennio Tardini, Greg Burke in Parma: Notes from a Year in Serie A charts the rise of Buffon during the 1997-98 season and how he started to become known as ‘Superman.’
Burke recalls that the then 20-year-old would wear a Superman t-shirt underneath his jersey, which a woman from Naples had sent him not as a good-luck charm, but simply because he claimed to like the colours.
However, he also acquired his moniker for his performances on the pitch with a spectacular penalty save against Ronaldo on March 8, 1998, as Parma knocked Inter out of second place in Serie A highlighted as the pivotal moment.
But Buffon was also earning such superhuman superlatives earlier in the season, including an outstanding individual performance for the Ducali against Dortmund in a Champions League group match at the Westfalenstadion on November 5 1997.
Die Schwarzgelben had upset Juventus to win the tournament the previous season and were coached by Nevio Scala, who had taken Parma to Serie A from Serie B and then guided them to the Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup in the middle of the 1990s.
Former Juventus players Andreas Moeller and Paulo Sousa controlled the match that ended in a 2–0 win for the German side, however the score could have ended in a bigger margin had it not been for Parma’s young goalkeeper penalty heroics.
Buffon saved a first-half penalty from Swiss striker Stephane Chapuisat and also got his hands to Moeller’s later spot-kick, but was unable to stop the Germany international from scoring on the rebound.
In Italy there is a deep-rooted culture of giving numerical ‘marks,’ which originated from the school system and has since been universalised by journalists awarding marks out of 10 for individual players, coaches and referees after every match.
La pagella (the report card) from the Dortmund test in the leading newspapers the following morning was damning, with plenty of mediocre fives and sixes awarded to the majority of Parma players.
However, La Gazzetta dello Sport and Rome daily La Repubblica both gave Buffon an impressive eight, a very rare mark only given for producing decisive moments in important games.
“Somebody who stops two penalty shots at Dortmund can do absolutely anything,” La Gazzetta dello Sport gushed.
“The next Michael Jordan, or something between Superman and Batman. He [Buffon] has only got to choose. Parma hopes he continues to be a footballer.”
Buffon would continue his career in Turin moving to Juventus for a then world record fee for a goalkeeper of €45 million in 2001, and has since continued to pull off miracle stops, deny certain goals and win valuable points for Juventus.
He has, of course, also come to the rescue of Italy on countless occasions, including the 2006 World Cup semi-final against Germany at the Signal Iduna Park when the Azzurri became the first side to defeat the hosts in Dortmund.
Before Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero became national heroes with last-gasp goals in extra time, Buffon had raced out of his goal faster than a speeding bullet to deny Miroslav Klose and later stop Lukas Podolski with a brilliant one-handed save.
Buffon was almost unbeatable behind the best defence in the competition, conceding a record low of just two goals, but it was his leadership that came to the forefront with his booming voice commanding a constantly changing back-four throughout the tournament.
This combination of communication and reactions will be essential again amidst the noise and spectacle provided by the Sudtribune when ‘Superman’ returns to the Ruhr for the Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Dortmund on Wednesday.
Dortmund may have been held to consecutive scoreless draws in their last two Bundesliga matches, but Buffon will still need to be ready to come to the rescue with the tie delicately poised at 2–1 after the first leg.