“Being amongst the best for a few years is the mark of a good player. Being the benchmark for others to emulate throughout your career is the mark of true greatness.”
Gianluigi Buffon has the golden chance to win his first ever Champions League title at the spry age of 39 this Saturday. It is the only trophy that has eluded the Italian goalkeeper at club level and it isn’t lost on anyone that this could very well be his last chance to complete his trophy cabinet. Standing in his way are a Real Madrid side looking to become first side to win back-to-back Champions League’s in the modern era.
But even without that European medal, Buffon will remain one of the best players to ever grace the game, never mind the best goalkeeper. The list of records he holds is quite lengthy, but Buffon is one of those players who cannot be defined by statistics alone.
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The fact that he’s been amongst the best in the world for so long is itself marvellous. He made his debut in 1995 and is still active nearly 22 years later whilst playing for Italy’s best club. Most players at his age are playing in ‘retirement’ leagues like the Major League Soccer (MLS) and Qatar Stars League, but Buffon is still at the helm of both the national team and also Juventus.
His brilliance was evident from his early days at Parma, and it’s a testament to his potential that his transfer to Juventus in 2001 still holds the world record as the biggest fee ever paid for a goalkeeper. Spending €51M on a goalkeeper would raise a few eyebrows even today, and it was almost unthinkable to spend so much on one player back then. Yet Juventus did it and it was a transfer that bought them more than just a goalkeeper – they gained a man who was a born leader both on and off the field.
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He’s only been Juventus’ captain for five seasons, but his influence over the side is such that he never really needed the armband to make his team-mates pay attention to him. Buffon, aside from being one of Italy’s best players for a number of years, has a fantastic tactical mind. This is also evident from just how much time he spends during games talking to his defenders. He is always organizing the defence and takes pride in ensuring that no one breaches his goal.
Gigi has clearly slowed down with age and has lost some of his physical dominance. To his credit, he’s cleverly adapted his game to suit his current physical state whilst also modifying his diet and training. He might not be the quickest in the world any longer, but his effectiveness is still the same as it was when he was a youngster at Parma.