He remains the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and he’s a Juventus icon, but that doesn’t make Buffon’s milestone 1,000th appearance any less remarkable
Gianluigi Buffon’s 1,000 appearance against Albania aptly ended with the 39-year-old keeping a clean sheet. He had relatively little to do but he was still able to show his usual gusto when representing the national team as he sung the anthem with enthusiasm and saluted the home fans at Palermo’s Stadio Renzo Barbera.
Buffon has done it all for the Azzurri, representing his country at all youth levels and winning an Under-21 European Championship, a Mediterranean Games and even competing in an Olympic Games.
Buffon’s emergence for the senior national team showed how he had huge faith placed in him from a young age. In the high-stakes setting of a World Cup qualifying playoff against Russia, it was Buffon who Cesare Maldini placed his faith in after Gianluca Pagliuca was ruled out through injury. The weight of the occasion was formidable but Buffon did his job in the snow as Italy held on for a 1-1 draw which sent them to France. Until recently, that made him the youngest goalkeeper to represent the Azzurri until his ‘apprentice’ Gianluigi Donnarumma broke that record and the AC Milan prodigy wasn’t even born when his role model set it in 1997.
Until recently, that made him the youngest goalkeeper to represent the Azzurri until his ‘apprentice’ Gianluigi Donnarumma broke that record and the AC Milan prodigy wasn’t even born when his role model set it in 1997.
Italy have never been short on goalkeeping talent and they’re certainly not now but it’s almost impossible to think of anything other than Buffon between the sticks. At EURO 2000, Francesco Toldo was incredible after Buffon broke his hand. Toldo made the starting spot his own on the back of his displays in France and Belgium, including the stunning display against the Netherlands. Yet, it took only four qualifying matches for Buffon to earn back a starting berth in the next qualifying campaign.
For all his triumphs at Juventus, the 2006 World Cup remains the pique of his career as he second a record for goals conceded as he won the Yashin Award. The only goals he conceded came from dead ball situations and he made a vital save from Zinedine Zidane’s header to preserve the deadlock during the nervy period of extra time. The sight of Buffon lifting the World Cup trophy remains evermore iconic on account of his lack of Champions League success but if anything, it seems more appropriate for him to have won the greatest international prize rather than the top honour in club football.
While Buffon is now almost universally adored as a great goalkeeper, there were tougher times. At Parma, he was criticised for wearing 88 as a number with fascist connotations before changing it and that seems to be a result of naivety more than anything.
More seriously, in 2003 and 2004 he was seeking treatment for depression. Buffon remains one of the few players to publicly discuss his issues and he couldn’t see why he was struggling seemingly at random when otherwise a happy and successful. With help from a psychologist despite his initial reservations about the value of the trade, the goalkeeper was able to beat his problems and come out on the other side.
His ability to overcome adversity shows why he remains such a valuable player after making 1,000 appearances. He can adapt and change. When Juventus were relegated to Serie B after Calciopoli, Buffon was the main star who stayed and that loyalty just boosts his reputation further. As he started to age, he changed his diet and goalkeeping style as his athleticism dropped. Now, he’s a more static goalkeeper who might not make as many spectacular saves but he remains integral to his side. The lonely nature of being in goal for such strong sides would cause problems for other goalkeepers with weaker concentration but not Buffon.
In Italy squads, the new players almost always speak of being inspired or even starstruck at seeing Buffon for the first time. That’s where Buffon is now and how he’s made so many professional appearances. He leads and that’s a vital skill for any team, especially one as defensively strong as Juventus. To discuss his goalkeeping ability now is almost redundant that he will go down as one of the greatest. Few players represent their country with as much distinction as Buffon and that’s as much to do with how he speaks and conducts himself as it is to do with how he plays.