A man who came to prominence in the colours of Parma, Buffon made his professional debut nearly 25 years ago and has since gone on to transcend the art of goalkeeping.
The biggest compliment that can be paid to ‘Gigi’ is the incredible consistency he has maintained for such a long period at an elite level, and I suppose the fact that he could pull off a dazzling array of multi-coloured goalkeeper jerseys…
Aged 17, Buffon was literally thrown into the Lion’s den for his senior Parma debut at the San Siro against AC Milan. 90 minutes later and a clean sheet capped a memorable introduction to senior football that included stunning saves from Roberto Baggio and Marco Simone.
Buffon’s natural athleticism, agility and aerial ability earned him the nickname ‘Superman’ from the Parma fans, especially after a penalty save from Ronaldo in 1997 after which he showed a t-shirt with the comic book hero on. Success in the Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup in 1999 further cemented Buffon’s legacy at the Stadio Ennio Tardini, before Juventus made him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper in 2001 after the Old Lady paid a reported €52 million for his services.
A trophy-laden 17 years would follow with Buffon integral to success in Turin as nine Serie A titles and four Coppa Italia triumphs were secured. Sadly, European glory would elude Juve and the Tuscany native as three Champions League final defeats would blot what’s otherwise been a stellar career.
On the international stage, Buffon’s finest hour with Italy came in 2006 as the Azzurri won the World Cup for a fourth time, largely owed to the stopper conceding only twice in seven games. However, triumph would be quickly overshadowed by the Calciopoli scandal that rocked Italian football. Juventus would be punished with relegation to Serie B and stripped of two Serie A titles, but Buffon remained loyal to I Bianconeri and helped the club return to the top flight within 12 months.
Although largely expected to retire, Buffon made a shock move to Paris Saint-Germain in July 2018 and helped claim another Ligue 1 title for the club. In a season that saw goalkeeping duties shared with Alphonse Areola, Buffon became only the third player to record 50 Champions League clean sheets.
His stay in the French capital would only be brief, however. A remarkable return to Turin was sealed last summer, after which Buffon claimed: “Life is incredible and it’s always worth dreaming.”
Although he now plays second fiddle to Wojciech Szczesny, Buffon has still featured on occasion in 2019-20 before the suspension of football to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further records are in sight too. Buffon is just one appearance away from breaking Paolo Maldini’s all-time Serie A record of 647 having already made the most club appearances by an Italian. Whether he will get the chance to achieve the feat remains to be seen, but what is for certain is that Buffon’s status as one of the all-time goalkeeping greats is secure.