How brilliant is Juventus and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon?

Gianluigi Buffon once joked that he could play until he is 65; as he turns 40, still at the peak of his powers, celebrates the ‘Superman’ of goalkeepers.

What they say

“I am amazed 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, ex-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: 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

Current tally

International: 175 appearances
UEFA club competition: 156 appearances
Domestic competition: 702 appearances

Claims to fame

• Made his senior debut aged 17 on 19 November 1995, keeping a clean sheet in a 0-0 home draw with AC Milan, including notable saves from the likes of Roberto Baggio and George Weah.

Watch Buffon's 1999 UEFA Cup triumph

Watch Buffon’s 1999 UEFA Cup triumph

• Having earned his nickname by 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, as Parma beat Marseille 3-0 in the final. He lifted the Coppa Italia the same season.

• In summer 2001, became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Juventus signing him for over €50m. He landed the Scudetto in his first term in Turin.

• In 2002/03, helped Juventus reach the UEFA Champions League final; his side drew 0-0 with Milan in Manchester but lost on penalties, though Buffon kept out two spot kicks, having also made an incredible reaction save from Filippo Inzaghi.

• The Old Lady were relegated to Serie B and stripped of their 2004/05 and 2005/06 titles as part of a match-fixing scandal, but Buffon stayed with the club, helping them gain immediate promotion. In November 2006, Juventus took out page adverts in Italy’s three main sports papers to thank their keeper.

Buffon and team-mate-turned-coach Antonio Conte

Buffon and team-mate-turned-coach Antonio Conte©Getty Images

• In 2011, ex-Juve player Antonio Conte took over as coach and led the Bianconeri to to three straight titles, the first without losing a game, and the third with a Serie A-record points haul of 102.

• Buffon claimed two further championships under Massimiliano Allegri, and got to the 2015 UEFA Champions League final, his team succumbing 3-1 to Barcelona in Berlin despite his amazing first-half stop from Dani Alves.

• In March 2016, aged 38, broke a 22-year 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 produced an incredible save from Dmitri Alenichev.

• Conceded only twice, an own goal and a penalty, as Italy captured the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Among his heroics were stops from Lukas Podolski in the semi-final and then from Zinédine Zidane in the final.

• Had another great tournament at UEFA EURO 2012, captaining Italy to the final only to lose 4-0 to Spain in Kyiv. Buffon and Italy would slay nemesis Spain in the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 before yielding on penalties to Germany in the quarters.

• During the 2014 campaign in Brazil, Buffon became just the third player to have featured at five FIFA World Cups, alongside Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Germany’s Lothar Matthäus.

• After surpassing Fabio Cannavaro’s Italian record with a 137th appearance in 2013, Buffon earned his 168th Italy cap to outstrip Iker Casillas and become Europe’s most capped international ever.

Played his 1,000th competitive game – a European Qualifier against Albania in March 2017 – and then confirmed his retirement from international football in November 2017 having made 175 Italy outings.

What you might not know

• Sport is in Buffon’s blood: mother Maria Stella held the Italian discus record for 17 years; father Adriano was a national junior shot put champion; meanwhile sisters Guendalina and Veronica played volleyball, Guendalina winning the European Cup with Matera. Former Milan and Italy keeper Lorenzo Buffon was a cousin of Gianluigi’s grandfather.

• Buffon overcame a terrible fear of wasps. “Just before a game his goalkeeping coach told me Buffon couldn’t play – he couldn’t throw himself around because there were too many wasps,” Fabio Capello explained. “‘OK no problem,’ I said, and just asked his understudy to get ready. Ten seconds later, Buffon told me his phobia was over because he really wanted to play.”

• Buffon supports Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany: “When I was a child I didn’t know how to pronounce their name. I can do better now, but I still think it’s not quite right.” When Juve met the Bundesliga outfit in the UEFA Champions League last term, Buffon gave a pair of his gloves to their fans but received nothing in return. Gladbach later sent him a scarf bearing the legend ‘A German team’ – in jest since, like Buffon, most foreigners find Mönchengladbach a bit of a mouthful.

• Buffon started out as a midfielder, becoming a keeper because his hero was former Cameroon and Espanyol custodian 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.

Buffon channels Tom Selleck

Buffon channels Tom Selleck©Getty Images

• As well as those two sons with his former wife, Czech model Alena Šeredová, Buffon has a third, Leopoldo Mattia, with his new partner, TV presenter Ilaria D’Amico. D’Amico and coach Allegri both mocked Buffon’s Tom Selleck-style moustache in a TV interview.

• Buffon was the president of 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.

What he says

“It’s funny when they write your obituary and then you go and prove them wrong. Now they can go to my funeral but they won’t find anyone there. This is what I live for, to make people eat their words.”

“I haven’t 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 don’t feel old. Will I say goodbye to the game in ten or 15 years’ time? Who knows – I might retire when I’m 65.”

“The most important thing for a goalkeeper is the sense of certainty you transmit to others. You have to transmit that, regardless of how you might actually be feeling. Even if you are not sure of yourself, you need others believe you have control of the situation and 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 excites me.”

What he might yet achieve

Where do Buffon, Lloris & Schmeichel rank? 10 great UEFA Champions League saves

Where do Buffon, Lloris & Schmeichel rank? 10 great UEFA Champions League saves

• Become the first player to win nine Scudettos – he is currently one of four to have lifted eight.

• Win the UEFA Champions League. He holds the unfortunate record of having appeared in the most European Cup finals without winning the competition: four.

• With 629 Serie A games to his name, he is 18 shy of Paolo Maldini’s record of 647. Sadly for Buffon, there are only 16 matches left this term.

•  When he eclipsed Alessandro Del Piero’s record for most minutes played for Juventus, ‘Pinturicchio’ joked on Twitter: “Now try beating my goals record.” Del Piero’s record of appearances (705) also seems fairly safe as Buffon has made 638 (including Italian Super Cups). With Superman, though, you never know …

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