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Gianluigi Buffon – the myth and the man

 

The small Central Italian town of Carrara in Tuscany is famous for two things – Carrara marbles popularly used in sculpture & decor works and Gianluigi Buffon, a fitting sculpture in the world of football. Italy, famous for its vintage beauty and romance has given the world a perfect footballer in the form of Buffon. Born into a family of athletes – his mom was a discus thrower and dad was a weightlifter; two sisters were volleyball specialists; uncle was a basketball player for national team also; and the great Lorenzo Buffon is Buffon’s grandfather’s cousin (now we know where the goalkeeping legacy started) – ‘Gigi’ was destined to become a sportsperson.

Buffon began his career by joining Parma’s youth system at the age of 13. Emerging as a precocious youngster, Buffon soon got noticed by the likes of his potential mentors and the journey started. He became a goalkeeper thanks to his idol Thomas N’Kono, Cameroon goalie who dazzled at the 1990 WC in Italy.  Under the mentorship of academy goalkeeping coach Ermes Fulgoni, Buffon flourished. Buffon was promoted to the senior team in 1995 and at 17 years, 295 days old, he made his Serie A debut. The debut for Parma against AC Milan was nothing less than a foreshadowing as he kept a clean sheet saving from the likes of George Weah & Roberto Baggio. During his stint at Parma, he was coached by trainer Villiam Vecchi who Buffon himself attributes for his confidence, development & success. 96-97 was the first season when Buffon was announced as a starting goalkeeper for the full campaign. Buffon made his European debut at 18 years of age on Sept. 1996. His UEFA Champions League entry had to wait until the 1997-98 season, a campaign where Parma finished 5th in Serie A and reached the Coppa Italia semi-finals. Buffon’s athleticism, agility and aerial ability sensationally resonated with the global soccer audience during this season. Later, he went onto win a UEFA Cup with Parma, contributions including a clean sheet in the finale against Olympic Marseille. In a season that saw Parma reach UCL Playoffs and secure the Coppa Italia trophy, Buffon was awarded the Serie A goalkeeper of the year and received his first ever Ballon d’Or nomination. From this point onwards, Buffon’s story and football’s story integrated and synced together to form an art that appealed to the global footballing audience.

On 3 July 2001, Buffon left Parma for Juventus for a world-record goalkeeper’s transfer fee of 51.956 million Euros. This acquisition stayed a purchase record for Juventus until the Gonzalo Higuain transfer in 2016. In his first season with Juventus – after replacing van der Sar as the first goalie – Buffon accomplished his biggest dream of winning the Scudetto conceding just 22 goals in 34 matches. Buffon played a huge role in taking Juve to the UCL Final in the 2002-03 season where they lost Milan in the penalty shoot-out. Buffon saved two penalties though and was phenomenal throughout the game and against Real Madrid in the semi-finals. During this tenure, Buffon was voted in the UEFA team of the year, was named in Pele’s list 0f 125 footballers and also got nominated to Ballon d’Or and FIFA world player of the year recognitions. Under managers Marcello Lippi and Fabio Capello, Buffon continued to impress football lovers and Juve fans alike with his glorious work.

But as is the case for any footballing careers with an extended stretch and depth, Buffon had to undergo his share of negatives too. He was sidelined for few months in occasional periods due to injuries and surgeries. However, the biggest worst incident of his and his club’s career came when the case of illegal betting incidents came to spotlight regarding several players including Buffon. After an investigation by Turin magistrates in what was later called the Calciopoli scandal, Juventus was stripped of two Serie A titles and relegated to Serie B. Though cleared of charges against him by the FIGC, instead of changing sides, Buffon chose to stay with Juve and play in the second division. This decision was highly hailed and made him a popular human being among sports lovers irrespective of country, genre and flag colours. Oh! And between, he won the FIFA World Cup 2006 with Italy in a powerful display of defense and beauty of teamwork.

Juventus won the Serie B the following season and returned to top flight football where they – according to their standards – struggled more than flourished. The hit & miss campaigns continued until the 2011-12 season when former Juve man Antonio Conte was hired. This brought back their era of dominance to the Serie A thus creating more to Buffon’s legendary status in the process. Up until now, during this new era, Juve has won almost all the domestic trophies including multiple Scudettos and Coppa Italias and also playing in two UCL finals despite falling in the last hurdle.

His simultaneous tenure with the Italian national team has also been good for the football fans around the world and owing to his club and country dedication and sincerity; Buffon will always be hailed a national hero by the Italian and Juventus faithful. He has resigned from his national duties after last fall’s failed WC qualifying campaign yet still returned to Italy’s friendlies in March. But as per the recent press conference, Juventus’ ace has permanently resigned from his duties for the ‘Old Lady’ and is pondering on a move most possibly to PSG. After 17 years of terrific performance on and off the field, the Juventus legend bid adieu to heartening emotions across the football world.

The best things that stay back related to Buffon are the style of play and reception he endeared over the years. Apart from the consistent performances, he is a true gentleman and perfect human being on and off the pitch. In addition to his soccer skills, he has received praise from his colleagues & competitors for composure, longevity and work-rate. For many, Gianluigi Buffon is arguably the best modern goalkeeper in the game. For this writer, he ranks among the greatest footballing talents of all time.

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