Gianluigi Buffon: 40 reasons to love the Juve, Italy legend at age 40
Gianluigi Buffon turns 40 on Sunday so what better way to celebrate the Italy and Juventus goalkeeping legend than with 40 things to love about him? Adam Hurrey digs in.
1. His debut for Italy
It was the perfect footballing example of being thrown in at the deep end. After half an hour of a high-stakes World Cup qualifying playoff in the driving October snow of Moscow in 1997, the teenage Buffon was summoned from the bench to replace the injured Gianluca Pagliuca. The rest has gone into Italian football folklore.
2. Because goalkeeping captains are always cool
Why does the captain's armband look better on a goalkeeper? A mystery for the ages.
3. His first Panini sticker
It's a welcome reminder that even the most suave footballers were once awkward, fresh-faced novices.
Gianluigi BUFFON's first Panini sticker— Old School Panini (@OldSchoolPanini) January 19, 2018
Parma AC (1995-96) pic.twitter.com/4UxMNCcsfJ
4. His debut for Parma
Two years before his Italy bow, a 17-year-old Buffon was drafted in to face the mighty Milan, featuring George Weah and Roberto Baggio up front, and he kept a masterful clean sheet. Italian goalkeeping great Dino Zoff said he had "never seen a debut like his for the personality and quality he showed."
5. His teenage words to Parma manager Nevio Scala
Buffon's former Parma teammate Luigi Apolloni recalled the young goalkeeper's fearless approach.
"I remember him arriving, this teenager, to speak to our manager, Nevio Scala. Right away he said: 'Listen, boss, in a normal month I train really well for 29 days. But one day a month you need to accept that I'm not going to be myself, because I'll be having a bad day. And you need not to get angry about that.'"
6. He named his son after legendary Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N'Kono
"It was Thomas N'Kono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He quickly became my hero, and I called my son Louis Thomas in his honor. After he was born, N'Kono called to congratulate me."
7. Sticking it out with Juventus in Serie B
In the wake of the Calciopoli scandal, after which Juventus were stripped of two Serie A titles and demoted to the second tier, Buffon was among a small group of their elite players who refused to join the exodus.
"In the end it was a simple choice for me," said Buffon. "If Juve had to go down to B then I had to go with them. I didn't really need to think about it. Juve helped me become a world champion and therefore I owed them a huge debt."
8. Taking criticism in the best way possible
After a rare Buffon slip had let a speculative David Alaba shot past him in the Champions League quarterfinal against Bayern Munich in 2013, Franz Beckenbauer remarked that he had "gone down like a pensioner."
Buffon responded by appearing on satirical Italian TV show "Striscia la Notizia" to receive a blanket, dressing gown and a pair of slippers.
9. His rallying cry before Juventus' 2015-16 title challenge
A 1-0 defeat to Sassuolo had left the reigning champions with just 12 points from 10 games. Buffon decided some stern words were needed.
"We need to have a profound examination of conscience. As captain I cannot permit us to go on playing this way. We need to start showing some humility, otherwise we're going to waste a season making an embarrassment of ourselves. At 38 years old, I really don't have any interest in it."
Juventus won 25 of their next 26 games to retain the title.
10. Celebrating a Serie A goalkeeping record by thanking each of his teammates individually
It required the longest Facebook status in football history, but when Buffon broke Sebastiano Rossi's 22-year-old record for the longest stretch without conceding (more than 16 hours), he made sure that each of his Juventus colleagues got a share of the credit.
11. Joining in with a kick-about while on holiday after Euro 2016
You know how it is: you're a player short, nobody wants to go in goal, and then one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time happens to be nearby.
12. His reaction to Italy fans booing the Swedish national anthem
Perhaps recognising an acute case of pride-before-fall, Buffon clapped his way through the opposition anthem before Italy fell at the final hurdle of World Cup qualifying...
13. The way he belted out the Italian national anthem
... not that he ever held back when it was his turn, of course.
Buffon is the best Italian. pic.twitter.com/ubaMh5IgVN— Stereo Serie A Radio (@StereoSerieA) June 13, 2016
14. His interview after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup
He still cares, after all these years.
15. Ivan Rakitic's response to a Buffon-less World Cup
"I would like to tell Buffon to go in my place because what he's done for football is incredible, simply unique. When a child writes out his ideal lineup, Buffon is always in there. When you saw him crying in the interview at the end of the match [against Sweden], you wanted to cry with him."
16. He's one of the very few players from Championship Manager 97/98 still playing
Cherish him while you still can, if only for that reason.
17. He singlehandedly saved a business from going bust
Between 2009-2015, Buffon invested £15 million of his own money in Zucchi, an historic Italian textile company, to save it from closure. "I blew €20m; it went up in smoke," he said, "but I safeguarded the livelihoods of 1,200 families."
18. This save in the 2003 Champions League final
It is generally regarded as one of the more tedious finals in recent history, thanks in part to the rock-solid goalkeeping of Buffon. Filippo Inzaghi struggles to fathom what's just happened while Buffon celebrates as if he's just scored a goal himself.
19. This save against Germany at Euro 2016
First Mario Gomez attempts a back-heel, then it looks like Italy are about to concede a comical own goal. Buffon makes sure neither are successful.
20. This save in the 2015 Champions League final
Twelve years after his (ultimately in-vain) heroics against Milan, Buffon was back on the biggest stage to try and thwart Barcelona. He couldn't stop the Spanish giants winning the game, but he did pull off this remarkable stop.
21. He has launched his own brand of red wine
Fairly apt for a player who has only improved with age...
22. His solid 4/10 knitwear
Distracting us from the fact that he's drinking a glass of a wine named after himself, let's all enjoy Gianluigi's very cosy-looking jumper.
23. He somehow makes even anti-dandruff shampoo seem cool
Not entirely sure where all of his fictional teammates are here, but at least he's dandruff-free.
24. His Facebook poem to the goal behind him
I was 12 when I turned my back on you. I renounced my past to guarantee you a secure future.
A choice of heart. A choice of instinct. On the very day when I stopped looking at your face, however, I began to love you. To protect you. To be your first and last defense tool. I promised myself that I would do everything I could to avoid crossing your gaze. Or to do it as little as possible. But every occasion was a pain, I had to turn around to realize I had disappointed you.
Again. One more time.
We have always been opposite and complementary, like the Moon and the Sun. Forced to live side by side without ever being able to touch. Life companions who are denied contact.
Over 25 years ago I made my vow: I swore to protect you and guide. I made a shield against your enemies. I've always thought of your own good. And all the times I've turned to look at you, I've been trying to support your disappointed face, but feeling guilty.
I was 12 when I turned my back on my goal. And I'll keep doing it. As long as legs, head and heart hold.
25. Doing his bit for the Goalkeepers' Union
"[Is a big save as important as a goal?] I honestly think it is. Goalkeepers know that it's hard for them to make up for any mistakes they might commit. It's a position that demands total concentration. You can never afford to relax."
26. His favourite save came in a World Cup final
"[What's the most important save you've ever made in your career?] It's very hard to pick one out in particular. Luckily, I've had quite a few, though I think one I made from Zinedine Zidane in the final at the 2006 World Cup in Germany was probably the most decisive."
27. He can turn aspiring strikers and midfielders into goalkeepers just by saying "hello"
That's Italy's next generation of goalkeepers sorted.
28. He somehow made goalkeeping analogous to mattresses
Both involve being horizontal at some point, in fairness.
29. He seduced a 50-foot-tall female terrorist to apparently save the world
Buffon's most peculiar commercial work of all, in which he becomes the world's last resort -- after heavy artillery has failed -- to tame a giant, scantily-clad woman with laser eyes.
30. His left wrist somehow survived a Roberto Carlos free kick
Unorthodox, and slightly dangerous, but ultimately effective.
31. This absolutely preposterous save
A 1998 World Cup warm-up match against Paraguay demonstrated Italy's incredible goalkeeping strength in depth. When your third-choice keeper can do this, you're probably alright in that department...
32. This save against Inter in 2000
The full-stretch dive is impressive enough: the reaction from Roberto Baggio on the sideline is just the icing on the cake.
33. This other save against Inter in 1997
"Miracolo" exclaims the commentator, which is about right.
34. He has worn some of the most questionable goalkeeper shirts in history
35. He moved to Juventus 17 years ago, and the transfer fee is still huge
It cost £33m in 2001 to prise Buffon away from Parma, a fee that remained the highest-ever for a goalkeeper until last summer when Manchester City signed Ederson. Allowing for inflation, though, Buffon's fee would be around £60m today.
36. He wore Italy's new outfield shirt in goal
Who better to model the brand new Azzurri kit than the goalkeeper who will never actually wear it?
37. Even referees find him irresistible
38. His acting skills are better than those of the average footballer
There's a slight Wes Anderson-esque quality to his performance here, perhaps.
39. This save against Georgia in 2009
It's one of those saves that makes a striker wonder if it perhaps isn't their day.
40. Buffon has no time for your modern technology
"We were told it would be used sparingly, in a fair and logical manner. Instead, it's like we're playing water polo. It's making the game ugly."
Buffon is no fan of VAR and chalked one up for the humans by saving the first-ever Serie A penalty awarded by a video referee back in August.
Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.