Juventus and Italy legend Gianluigi Buffon turns 38 on Thursday January 28th, Oscar La-Gambina looks back at an astonishing career to date for ‘Gigi’.
Italian football has been graced with the quality of Gianluigi Buffon for over 20 years.
Many individual records are also held by Buffon, such as the runner-up in the FIFA Ballon d’Or in 2006 and being a member of FIFA’s best squad for a number of different World Cups and European competitions.
Recent controversy surrounding the 2016 Ballon d’Or, in fact, shows just how good the Italian is in goal after FIGC decided to boycott the voting due to his absence from the shortlist.
Italian media got behind this stance and the point was made, but little actually came out of it in terms of awards for Buffon.
Nonetheless, he remains one of the top players in world football despite his age of 38-years-old.
Buffon revealed he is planning to retire following the conclusion of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, leaving him just one-and-a-half more seasons in Serie A to express his quality and try to replicate the success of Germany 2006 with the Azzurri.
To understand why Buffon has been part of the Italy backbone for such a long time, we must go back to the early 1990’s.
After joining the youth ranks of Parma, who were one of the biggest clubs in Italy at the time, Buffon initially appeared outfield, mainly in the middle of the park.
He then transferred to a place in between the sticks after watching the performance of Cameroon keeper Thomas N’Kono in Italia ‘90 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fortunately for him, both youth keepers ahead of Buffon at Parma suffered injuries before making his senior debut in a 0-0 draw in the 1994/95 season against eventual champions AC Milan.
Buffon’s height and overall physicality gave him an advantage over his adversaries, and was as such chosen ahead of teammates Luca Bucci and Alessandro Nista for the 1996/97 season.
A 19-year-old Buffon kept 15 clean sheets in his first Serie A season in goal for the Crociati, conceding just 17 goals overall.
To put that in perspective, last season’s 37-year-old Buffon kept 18 clean sheets in Serie A and conceded 20 goals.
These performances didn’t go unnoticed, and over the next few years Buffon’s reputation continued to grow.
Buffon claimed the title of Best Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year twice while at Parma, before completing a move to Juventus for a world-record transfer fee(€52 million) for a goalkeeper; a record that he still holds today.
He replaced Edwin van der Sar at Jthe Bianconeri, immediately being given the number one shirt by coach Marcello Lippi, whom he would find success with in Germany five years later.
It was later revealed that the Italian could have joined Roma instead, or even Spanish giants Barcelona, but it was his father who convinced him that Juve was the place to win medals.
He did just that in his first season with the Bianconeri after he lifted the Serie A trophy.
Key performances continued to be put in by Buffon, saving penalties in high-profile matches while keeping crucial clean sheets, and several Scudetti followed, although the Calciopoli scandal at the time puts these into question.
That scandal proved to be a turning point in Buffon’s career, and one that is potentially the reason he is so loved by calico fans across the globe.
Juventus were relegated to Serie B following Calciopoli, causing a whole host of star players to leave the squad for new ventures elsewhere.
Not Buffon, however. He stuck with the Old Lady and helped them re-gain promotion back to the top-flight.
A second key turning point took place around this time, too: the 2006 World Cup.
Buffon let in just two goals throughout the entire tournament, one of which was a penalty while the other was an unfortunate own goal.
After becoming champion of the world with the Azzurri, he finished in second place in the 2006 Ballon d’Or, and his career appeared to have reached its peak.
The couple of years following Juventus’ Serie B win and Serie A return began to pose problems for the Italian, as he was hampered by various injuries.
Lack of playing time thanks to these led to speculation that Buffon would be on his way out, but once again he stuck with the Bianconeri and grew in popularity with the fans.
The year of 2011 saw the arrival of Antonio Conte, and this is the Juventus we are privileged to watch today.
They have won the Scudetto every year since then, despite changing coaches, and finished as Champions League finalists last season.
Although no other keeper had a real chance to showcase their talent in a Juve shirt thanks to the domination of Buffon, it is difficult to claim that someone could have done a better job than the Italian.
His desire to remain with the club alone made him be worshipped by fans, and his consistently strong performances mean Juventus are fearing the day that he hangs up his gloves.