Gianluigi Buffon recently joked that he could play on until he is 65; given how well he is playing at 38, he certainly has a good few years left in him. Ahead of his 39th birthday, on Saturday, UEFA.com celebrates the ‘Superman’ of goalkeepers.
What they say
“I am amazed that he has never won the Ballon d’Or. He certainly deserves it for everything he has done. For me, he is the best goalkeeper in the history of the game. He is a footballing icon – a true legend.”
Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus and Italy team-mate
“The fact Gigi Buffon started his career so young helped me a lot. If you see a young goalkeeper with the profile he had at Parma starting to play for Italy because the coaches have faith in him, it gives you belief that you can do the same. I also started very young, at 17 or 18, and both of us are still going. Whenever we get the chance, we have a nice chat. It’s a friendship forged over many years.”
Iker Casillas, Porto goalkeeper
“We are talking about the No1 in the world. He has been the best throughout his career. I have been telling him the same thing for 20 years now: when a normal goalkeeper makes a mistake, nobody says anything, but when Buffon makes a mistake, it’s news. But you cannot argue about Buffon. Buffon is Buffon, the No1.”
Marcello Lippi, former Juventus and Italy coach
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International: 167 appearances
UEFA club competition: 144 appearances
Domestic competition: 669 appearances
Claims to fame
• Made his senior debut aged 17 on 19 November 1995, keeping a clean sheet in a 0-0 home draw against AC Milan, and making notable saves from the likes o Roberto Baggio and George Weah.
• Having earned his nickname after saving a penalty from Internazionale Milano’s Ronaldo in 1997 and celebrating by showing the fans a Superman t-shirt, Buffon won his first European trophy, the 1999 UEFA Cup, by keeping a clean sheet as Parma defeated 3-0 Marseille in the final. He won the Coppa Italia the same season.
• In summer 2001, became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Juventus signing him for over €50m. He won the Scudetto in his first season.
• In 2002/03, helped Juventus reach the UEFA Champions League final; his side drew 0-0 with AC Milan in Manchester but lost the match on penalties, though Buffon saved two spot-kicks, having made an incredible reaction save from Filippo Inzaghi.
• The Old Lady were relegated to Serie B and stripped of the 2004/05 and 2005/06 titles as part of a match-fixing scandal, but Buffon stayed with the club, helping the team win immediate promotion. In November 2006, Juventus took out page adverts in Italy’s three main sports papers to thank their goalkeeper.
• In 2011, former Juventus player Antonio Conte took over as coach and led he Bianconeri to to three consecutive titles, the first without losing a single game, and the third with a Serie A-record points haul of 102.
• Buffon won two further Italian titles under Massimiliano Allegri, and reached the UEFA Champions League final in 2015, his side losing 3-1 to Barcelona in Berlin despite his amazing first-half save from Dani Alves.
• In March 2016, aged 38, he broke a 22-year-old record by going 974 minutes without conceding in Serie A.
• On 29 October 1997, aged 19, Buffon made his Azzurri debut, coming on for the injured Gianluca Pagliuca in the first leg of the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying play-off against Russia in snowy Moscow; soon after, he made an incredible save to deny Dmitri Alenichev.
• Conceded only twice, an own goal and a penalty, as Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Among his brilliant saves are one from Lukas Podolski in the semi-final against the hosts and another from Zinédine Zidane in the final.
• Buffon has another great tournament at UEFA EURO 2012, captaining Italy to the final only to lose 4-0 against Spain in Kyiv. Buffon and Italy defeat their bête-noire Spain in UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 but lose on penalties to Germany in the quarter-finals.
• After surpassing Fabio Cannavaro’s Italian record with a 137th appearance in 2013, Buffon wins his 167th Italy cap in a friendly against Germany in November 2016, drawing level with Casillas as Europe’s most-capped player.
What you might not know
• Sport is in Buffon’s blood. His mother Maria Stella held the Italian discus record for 17 years, while his father Adriano was a national junior shot put champion. His sisters Guendalina and Veronica played volleyball, Guendalina winning the European Cup with Matera. Former Milan and Italy goalkeeper Lorenzo Buffon was a cousin of Gianluigi’s grandfather.
• Buffon overcame his terrible fear of wasps. “Just ahead of a game his goalkeeping coach told me that Buffon could not play – he could not throw himself around because there were too many wasps,” Fabio Capello remembered. “‘OK no problem,’ I said, and just asked his understudy to prepare himself. Ten seconds later, Buffon told me his phobia was over because he really wanted to play.”
• Buffon supports Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany, explaining: “When I was a child I didn’t know how to pronounce their name. I can do it better now, but I still think it’s not quite right.” When Juventus played the Bundesliga side in the UEFA Champions League last season, Buffon gave a pair of his gloves to the club’s fans but received nothing in return. Gladbach later sent him a scarf bearing the legend ‘A German team’ – a joke because, like Buffon, most foreigners found their name a bit of a mouthful.
• Buffon started out as a midfielder, becoming a goalkeeper because his idol was the former Cameroon and Espanyol stopper Thomas N’Kono. He named his first son, Louis Thomas, after him. His second, David Lee, is named in honour of Van Halen singer David Lee Roth.
• As well as those two sons with his former wife, Czech model Alena Šeredová, Buffon’s has a third, Leopoldo Mattia, by his new partner, TV presenter Ilaria D’Amico. D’Amico and Allegri both mocked Buffon’s new Tom Selleck-like moustache in a recent TV interview.
• Buffon was the president of his home-town club Carrarese for three years, until 2015. The acronym on his gloves C.U.I.T. stands for Commando Ultrà Indian Trips, the hard-core group of Carrarese fans. The club went into bankruptcy last year.
What he says
“It’s funny when they announce your funeral and then you go and prove them wrong. Now they can go to my funeral, but they will not find anybody there. This is what I live for, to make people eat their words.”
“I have not lost an awful lot in my life, but the defeats have taught me more than the victories. Whenever I lose, I focus on the ability of my opponents and on the mistakes I made. Not looking for excuses is the right thing to do.”
“I still do not feel like an old guy at the age of 38. Will I say farewell to the game in ten years’ time or in 15 years’ time? Who knows, I might retire at the age of 65.”
“The most important thing for a goalkeeper is the sense of certainty you transmit to others. You have to transmit that, regardless of what you might actually be feeling. Even if you are not sure of yourself, you need others believe you have control of the situation and that they can rely on you. A nervy goalkeeper means a nervy team.”
“You see how good a No1 is in the game or even the move after he makes a mistake, when they are filled with remorse and indecision. The more mistakes you make, the worse it gets, because your confidence goes. But for me it’s the other way round. Being in the eye of the storm is exciting to me.”
What he might achieve yet
• With 606 Serie A appearances to his name, he is just 41 behind Paolo Maldini’s record.
• His combined total of 669 domestic league and cup appearances, 144 more in UEFA competitions and 167 for the national team mean he has made 980 competitive senior appearances (excluding domestic super cups), and thus needs just 20 more to make it to 1,000.
• With Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Germany’s Lothar Matthäus, Buffon is the only player to have taken part in five FIFA World Cups. Russia 2018 is only 18 months away …
• He is 17 caps shy of the world record of 184 held by Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan.
• He could win an unprecedented sixth Scudetto in a row this season – and equal the record of Scudetti wins for a player (8).
• When he overtook Alessandro Del Piero’s record for the most minutes played for Juventus, ‘Pinturicchio’ joked on Twitter: “Now try to beat my record of goals.” His record of appearances (705) also seems pretty safe as Buffon has made just 602 (including Italian super cups). With Superman, however, you never know …