Superman has returned to Parma, or so it might have seemed. Gianluigi Buffon’s decision to leave Juventus, reject more lucrative offers from abroad, and to drop down to Serie B to where it all began has been heralded as a fairytale since his signing was announced by the Crociati.
How it started: How it’s going: pic.twitter.com/ASKWWK4rfD
— Parma Calcio 1913 (@ParmaCalcio_en) June 17, 2021
Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear, though. Nothing is quite as it seems. Even less so in Italian football and that is undeniably the case with Buffon’s romanticised return to the Stadio Ennio Tardini, the place he left to join the Bianconeri in 2001.
A banner hung on the gates of the Tardini and signed by an ultras group on Friday brought to light just how much of a stir his exit caused. “You left as a mercenary,” it read. “You can’t return as a hero. Honour the shirt!” Parma supporters felt as though the goalkeeper had turned his back on the club that allowed him to become the great goalkeeper he was then. Above all, though, they felt – and many feel – as though he went against his word and – in joining, of all clubs, Juventus – committed an unforgivable act.
The controversy didn’t stem only from the move, but things that had been said and that had happened prior to it. A ‘gobbo‘ label has been stuck onto Buffon by some Parma supporters, with that making reference, as far as they’re concerned, to the ‘keeper’s own words before he made the move to Juventus two decades ago.
Not all of the explanations given to Forza Italian Football have gone into detail, though at least two made reference to an incident that led to the Gialloblu’s more hardcore supporters coming to the defence of their then-goalkeeper, with him promising afterward that he would ‘never be gobbo‘.
As a result, it’s fair to say that the reaction to his return has been mixed. One long-standing ultra, when asked what he thought about Buffon’s comeback, simply said “it’d be better if he’d f*** off”. Other and – perhaps significantly – younger members of the Curva were somewhere between unconcerned and outright uninterested in the signing, explaining that in their time supporting the club they’ve never supported any individual player. The message in the Facebook post accompanying the aforementioned banner was entitled “only for the shirt,” a sentiment shared by many.
It would be wrong to say that it’s all negative, however. There are some who are happy with the deal. Even on the Curva. One Curva Nord regular told Forza Italian Football that “what happened was a long time ago and Buffon was young,” recognising the “romance” of “the greatest goalkeeper of all time” dropping into the Italian second tier to return to the club that gave him his debut.
Other regulars, though not on the Curva, have expressed nothing but excitement about it. Buffon, 43, can offer a lot of experience and guidance to the young squad that is continuing to be assembled in Parma, something that has become even more necessary since Bruno Alves’ departure at the end of the 2020/21 season. Whether he plays or not, his presence alone will offer a lot.
It mightn’t be the fairytale that many have depicted it to be, but Buffon has returned to Parma to end a career that took him from the Gialloblu to Juventus and Paris and then back along that same path in the opposite direction to reach the Tardini’s famous arch again for one last season, and one that will hopefully end in silverware and a promotion for his old-new club.