TORONTO – It was a heartbreaking moment, not just for Gianluigi Buffon but for millions of television viewers around the world.
Shortly after Italy was held to a 0-0 draw at Milan’s San Siro stadium on Monday, a result that meant the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, Buffon was pulled aside before he walked off the pitch in order to give a TV interview.
The emotions were still too raw, and the legendary goalkeeper was fighting back tears as he, in essence, announced his retirement from the Italian national team after this unthinkable failure.
“It is upsetting that my last match decided we didn’t qualify for the World Cup,” Buffon said.
He continued: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Not for me, though, but for [Italy]. I’m sorry that we failed at something that could have also been important on a social level. That’s the only regret I have. We didn’t leave anything out on the pitch.”
A wonderful ambassador for the sport, the Juventus goalkeeper didn’t deserve to see his national team career end this way. Buffon is not only Italy’s all-time appearance leader with 175 caps, but he’s also one of the nation’s most iconic stars, playing a leading role in the Azzurri’s 2006 World Cup victory in Germany.
It was a gut-wrenching scene, to see Buffon break down like that on live TV, but it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise from a player who passionately belted out the national anthem before every Italy game and who took such enormous pride in representing his country. Those are just some of the qualities that Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono has long admired in Buffon.
“For me, he’s the pinnacle of passion for your country, and belief in your country. The pride he has when he puts on the Italy jersey, you can see it when he sings the national anthem, and when they don’t qualify for the World Cup and he’s just balling and falling apart in an interview. That just shows the love he has for playing for his country,” Bono told Sportsnet.
“To me that’s the way it should be – playing for your national team is the highest honour a player can have, and the fact he didn’t take it for granted for one second and displayed so much effort and commitment for the Italian cause, that’s the ultimate example of how a player should handle national team duty.”
While Buffon’s career is winding down – he turns 40 in January, and he has previously stated he plans to retire at the end of the current Serie A campaign – Bono’s is just getting started. After serving as a backup last season, Bono is now firmly established as TFC’s starter. At 24, Bono has many more years ahead of him and could be a central figure for the Reds for quite some time. A first call-up by the U.S. national team likely isn’t too far away, either.
Although Bono looked up to many goalkeepers while growing up, Buffon topped the list.
“He was the one that I admired the most. … He was such an inspiration to me as a kid and even now. The way he played the game was something that I took in and studied, and I wanted to duplicate,” Bono said.
For Bono, it’s not so much Buffon’s shot-stopping ability that defines him as a goalkeeper, but rather the dignified way in which the Italian conducts himself.
“The amount of class he has and the way that he carries himself on the field, that’s Buffon. He has a little bit of a quiet swagger that all goalkeepers should have. He has so much class, shows so much leadership. He is really the epicenter of all that,” Bono offered.
Bono argues that while other goalkeepers have flashier styles and make of a show of it when they pull off a great save, Buffon is the complete opposite with his simple approach.
“He’s very much an Italian goalkeeper. [Manchester United’s] David de Gea is a typical Spanish goalkeeper in that he’s high-flying, picking stuff out of the top corner. That’s not Buffon,” Bono said.
“He’s very technical. He does the small things, the little things you don’t notice, very well. He doesn’t make saves look extraordinary. He can make the same save as any other national team or club goalkeeper, and he’ll make it look simple, as though it’s a routine save.”