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Twenty years at the top and Gianluigi Buffon still wants more
An outsiders’ image of the Juventus this decade has been defined by two players: Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo. Although Pirlo’s career has now taken him to New York City FC, both players offer a refreshing counterpoint to the egocentric world of top-level football today. For Buffon, it’s easy to forget that the keeper is not a one-club man, having remained loyal to Juventus through the dark days of relegation and the Calciopoli scandal that were sandwiched between many league titles and two Champions League finals appearances. Beyond the stats, however, the pair’s gift for poetic, philosophical and bold speech nearly matches the beauty of watching them play football.
“I am a guy who always knows how to handle moments of great joy and disappointment with balance,” Buffon told Sky Sport Italia, per Eurosport, after the disappointment of Juventus’ Champions League final loss to Barcelona last season. After no less than twenty years at the top of world football, Buffon is simply powering through his latest misfortune when even Pirlo took a step down to Major League Soccer.
In compiling interviews with the Italian goalkeeper throughout his career, from publications ranging from the New York Times to Cabinet Magazine, it’s clear that Buffon has had an innate ability, even from a very young age, to both reflect back on his career and peer further to the future. This is a man who suffered depression early on in his career, but instead of sliding down the slippery slope like some athletes, he worked back out of his slump with the help of family members and physiologists.
“I have the idea that although a man’s life is compounded of thousands and thousands of moments and days, those many instants and days can be reduced to a single one. So my single image in the media is precisely about the moments when I try to stop the ball. They are all stills of instantaneous decisions. At the end of the day, it’s a collection of images where I always appear in midair—flying. I like it that the entire record of my life is of it occurring in the air.” — Gianluigi Buffon, in an interview with Cabinet Magazine
Among many of the quotable and enigmatic interviews Buffon has given, one with Cabinet Magazine in 2005 stands out. In the very first question, Buffon introduces us to the beginning of his footballing career. “I entered my present profession by accident—a series of geographical, personal, and legal coincidences. A blend of boredom, curiosity, and vanity,” he said.
Buffon’s Mother, Maria Stella Buffon, was a discus thrower and his father Adriano was a professional weight lifter. Gianluigi is also related to the great Italian goalkeeper Lorenzo Buffon, though reports are inconsistent regarding their ties, some claiming Lorenzo Buffon is the cousin of Gianluigi’s grandfather, while others peg Lorenzo as Gianluigi’s great uncle.
Yet Buffon has stated many times that as a youth player for Parma, he often played in outfield positions and the midfield, only settling into goal midway through his teenage years. Buffon’s unorthodox path to becoming a professional goalkeeper is surely one of the greatest accidents to have graced Italian football.
He made his senior debut in 1995 at the age of seventeen against the then reigning Serie A champions AC Milan, managing to keep out legendary figures Roberto Baggio and George Weah in a 0-0 draw.
After establishing himself as a starter for Parma and international for Italy by the time he turned twenty, Buffon earned a move to Juventus in 2001. Around the same time, Buffon suffered from his depression but recovered to earn eight Serie A titles and a World Cup trophy in fifteen years playing for Juventus and Italy. Amid the success, there was the heartbreak of a loss in the 2003 Champions League final, then twelve years later being the only player from that era in Juventus’ run to the 2015 Champions League final loss to Barcelona.
There was also the achievement of starting every minute of Italy’s road to the World Cup trophy in 2006, allowing just two goals in seven games. Though the national team has been in flux ever since, Buffon has been a stalwart throughout multiple generations of players. He’s won 149 international caps and counting, thirteen more than any other player and thirty-three more than Pirlo; he’s still the most expensive goalkeeper of all time from his move to Juventus fourteen years ago and he’s won the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year award nine times. The Guardian tell one story from September 2013, when Buffon walked up to journalists after a fantastic display against Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying and said, “I don’t know why you are still surprised,” before dropping the mic.
“I may be a man, but I feel like a boy. Sometimes I look around and think I have more goals than young people. I am focused, I know what I want. And part of it is right in front of me now.” — Gianluigi Buffon, in an interview with the New York Times
Now, just months away from the twentieth anniversary of Buffon’s professional debut and the Italian goalkeeper still wants more. He’ll get past the loss in the Champions League final. “I don’t think I have committed every possible mistake—because mistakes are innumerable—but many of them, and I really enjoy failure and that people keep talking about the mistake for week,” Buffon told Cabinet Magazine when describing penalty shootouts.
Buffon says he is ready for three more years of mistakes mixed with frequent triumphs and glory. He told Sam Borden of the New York Times that he would like to feature in World Cup 2018, which would be his fifth tournament, because “no one else has done it.” Based on Buffon’s past determination, be prepared to tick another record onto his tab. Twenty years into his international career and he’s still going strong.
Photo credit: Muhammad Ashiq, via Flickr