Gianluigi Buffon: Italy’s World Cup Winning Goalkeeper and Juventus’ Stalwart Between the Sticks

Gianluigi Buffon is number 37 in 90min’s Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series.

Most football fans remember where they were watching major competition finals, whether it’s the Champions League, the European Championship or the FA Cup.

On 9 July 2006 in Berlin and around the globe, it was World Cup final day. It was also the first time I came across the imposing 6’4 Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

For 120 minutes, with four families crammed into one living room with all eyes glued to the television, we were all Italy fans, but – more importantly – we were also Buffon ultras.

Italian goalkeeper and 2006 world champi

When he made a crucial flying save to prevent France’s Zinedine Zidane scoring in extra time during the final, cries of ‘Buffon! Buffon! Buffon!’ echoed around the room. He was heroic throughout that tournament and he was fully deserving, alongside other Azzurri legends like Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti, of that World Cup victory.

But one single match does not do justice to Buffon’s longevity. He is a man with over a thousand professional matches in bank – combining club and international football – and throughout that period he has been the most consistent goalkeeper in an age filled with top quality shot stoppers like Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer and Petr Cech.

But to start with, we have to go back to 1995. A year when TLC, Coolio and Seal were running the music world. The year Forrest Gump dominated at the Oscars. The year Buffon made his professional debut for Parma, facing a star studded ​Milan side.

Claudio Villa Archive

He more than held his own against established players like Roberto Baggio, George Weah and Marco Simone, and he would become Parma’s regular goalkeeper for the 1996/97 season.

Buffon got his first taste of silverware towards the end of the 1990s, winning the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and UEFA Cup alongside legends like Lilian Thuram, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo before Juventus decided to fork out a then world record €52m (for a goalkeeper) in 2001.

He and his Bianconeri teammates would win four Serie A titles by the conclusion of the 2005/06 season before the Calciopoli scandal struck. For their role in the ordeal, Juventus were stripped of the 2004/05 and 2005/06 titles and relegated to Serie B.

Buffon stayed with the club during one of their darkest hours, winning promotion back to the top flight as Juve started their journey back to becoming one of Italy’s most domineering teams, and the Italy legend was arguably the most important player in that rebuild.

​Juve are now head and shoulders above all other ​Serie A clubs, having won the last eight available top flight titles, with Buffon a constant throughout those years – barring the 2018/19 term, when he took off for a brief stay at Paris Saint-Germain before returning to Turin in the summer of 2019.

Alongside defensive stalwarts Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, Buffon built the platform for La Vecchia Signora managers Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri to succeed, with Maurizio Sarri well placed to add the club’s impressive trophy cabinet again this season.

Internationally, Buffon is widely regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever. He held down Italy’s number one jersey for close to 20 years, racking up 176 appearances before handing the reins over to Gianluigi Donnarumma. He also appeared at numerous international tournaments, including that aforementioned 2006 World Cup.

Thierry Henry,Gianluigi Buffon

In his prime, Buffon was probably the best pure shot stopper in world football. Performances like his showing against Germany in the 2016 European Championship, when he notably denied Mario Gomez from point blank range, have been regular throughout his career.

It’s impossible to do Buffon and his legendary career justice, though his teammates and opponents, both past and present, have often tried.

“Gigi’s a natural-born leader, an incredible footballer, but also a wonderful person,” Zinedine Zidane once quipped. “I’d love to see Gigi play for the rest of his life. It’s always wonderful to watch legends like him on the pitch,” Andres Iniesta once said.

Gianluigi Buffon

He’s a player universally respected in the football world, and those characters don’t come around too often. When that retirement does come, it’ll be one of the sadder career conclusions in recent years.


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