Name: Gianluigi Buffon
Born: Jan. 28, 1978, in Carrara, Italy
Pro club: Juventus
Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA’s Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.
Why is he in the news?
Last week he celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Serie A debut by backstopping Juventus to a 1-0 win over AC Milan. Buffon was only 17 years old when he made his competitive debut, helping Parma earn a 0-0 draw against mighty AC Milan on Nov. 19, 1995.
Interestingly, the game against the Rossoneri last weekend saw Buffon go up against Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who earlier this season became the youngest goalkeeper ever to start a Serie A match (16 years, eight months).
Then on Wednesday, Buffon earned a clean sheet as Juventus defeated visitors Manchester City 1-0 in the UEFA Champions League. The game marked Buffon’s 553rd appearance for Juventus in all competitions, moving him into second place all-time in club history.
He’s special because
Quite simply, Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers in the history of the sport. He’s renowned not only for his longevity but also for his consistency at the highest level.
Ask any young goalkeeper who his idol or biggest influence is—chances are they’ll name Buffon, who is routinely held up as archetype of the model goalkeeper in the modern game.
In earning his 553rd career appearance for Juventus this past week, he moved past legendary defender Gaetano Scirea. Considering Juventus’ history and the long list of iconic stars who have played for the club, it speaks to Buffon’s staggering influence and status that only one player has played more games for the Italian outfit—Alessandro Del Piero leads the way with 705.
Buffon began his soccer journey with Parma’s youth team in 1991 before making his Serie A debut in 1995 at the tender age of 17.
The following season he became Parma’s starting goalkeeper, helping the modest provincial club finish second place in Serie A and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. He went on to win a UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia at Parma before moving to Juventus in the summer of 2001 for 45 million euros—still the biggest transfer for a goalkeeper.
Buffon has become legend at Juventus, winning a host of individual and team awards, including six Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia and two UEFA Champions League runners-up medals. He also finished second in balloting for the 2006 Ballon d’Or, and has been voted Serie A goalkeeper of the year nine times.
Also, he is known to be very loyal. Coming off a spectacular 2006 World Cup, Buffon could have easily pushed to be sold (like so many of his teammates did) after Juventus was relegated to Serie B as part of the Calciopoli scandal. Instead, he remained with Juve as they battled it out in Italy’s second division, helping them win promotion at the first time of asking.
With 148 caps to his credit, Buffon is the all-time appearances leader in the history of Italy’s national team. He’s played more games for the Azzurri than Dino Zoff, Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo and countless other Italian greats. Think about that for a second.
Buffon represented Italy at a number of youth levels before graduating to the senior team in 1997. He earned his first cap that October, at the age of 19, in a World Cup qualification playoff against Russia in Moscow. Italy earned a 1-1 draw and went on to qualify for the 1998 World Cup, where Buffon served as backup to Gianluca Pagliuca. Buffon was supposed to start for Italy at Euro 2000, but he suffered an injury days before the tournament.
Buffon effectively became Italy’s No. 1 goalkeeper during the qualification campaign for the 2002 World Cup, a spot he hasn’t relinquished to this day. He’s played in three straight European Championships (helping Italy reach the final in 2012) and four consecutive World Cups.
It was his stellar play between the pipes that was instrumental in Italy winning the 2006 World Cup, with his performance against hosts Germany in the semi-finals ranking among the best of his entire career. Not only did he win the World Cup but Buffon was named to the all-star team and named the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
And at 37, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. He’s still Italy’s No. 1, forcing a goalkeeper the calibre of PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu to sit on the bench. If Buffon makes it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he will tie the record of most tournament appearances—five, co-held by Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Lothar Mattaus of Germany.
His most famous moment
It’s hard to pick out just one. But the save he made on Germany’s Lukas Podolski in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup was epic. It was a stop that punctuated one of the best performances of his entire career, and was crucial in helping Italy earn a 2-0 win in extra time in one of the best World Cup matches of all time.
Here’s a few interesting facts
• He used to be married to Czech model Alena Seredova.
• The couple had two children, including son Louis Thomas who was named after Buffon’s idol, Cameroonian goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono.
• Buffon’s mother was a discus thrower and his father was a weightlifter. His two sisters played for Italy’s national volleyball team and his uncle was a pro basketball player.
He said it
“[Am I legend?] No, no, legends seem to have something that isn’t very human and I don’t like them. I am an athlete with soul, with heart, for the good and for the bad, that’s for others to judge. I consider myself a footballer who marked a part of the history of the sport in Italy, in Europe and in the world. But you turn into a legend when you die. I hope that’s in the very distant future!” – Buffon (to Spanish sports daily AS)
What they’re saying about him
“What can I say about Gigi? He has been a point of reference for my generation and for the generations to come. For anyone who, like me, dreamed of becoming a goalkeeper, he represented the platform, the shop window where you hoped to arrive and to feature alongside him.” – Iker Casillas (to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport)