The Lion leaves the den: the Legacy of Gianluigi Buffon

Mohamed Hassan Khalifa

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In Italy, football is a complete way of life, like a beautiful symphony played in the city of Venice, watching Michelangelo’s sculptures or looking at a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Buffon, the Old Lady’s departing goalkeeper, is a living example of love and passion for football, and the legend of Buffon in Italian mythology will remain with all the glamour and momentum no matter how long time goes.

The sports family

The legendary goalkeeper and the long-serving captain of the Italian club Juventus, Gianluigi Buffon, crossed his forty last January. He was born in Carrara, the Tuscan city that provided the marble for Michelangelo’s David 500 years ago. He belonged to a family of sportsmen in Italy, where his mother, Maria Stella Mosoko was an Italian Discuss Throw Champion and his father was a Hammer Throw player. Meanwhile, his siblings were professional volleyball players. His uncle was a basketball player, too. And most prominent among them was Lorenzo, the son of his father’s uncle, who was the goalkeeper of AC Milan and one of the best goalkeepers Italy has ever produced.

Buffon grew up in a family where the small and tall equally loved sports, and each of them inscribed their names in its various fields. Unsurprisingly the family did not let young Gigi go out of the tradition. Soon he was admitted into a sports academy at his tender age of six, and he chose football as his favourite game that would pump Adrenaline to his brain.

From midfield to the goalpost

Buffon was not worried about his playing position, but his concern was to play football more than anything. In the beginning, the young Gigi played in midfield position. He played the first official match as a midfielder in the iconic San Siro stadium when he was just ten. But his position in the middle did not last long. Young Gigi’s passion changed after watching the quarter final game of the 1990 world cup held in Italy.

He was twelve years old when the World Cup events unfolded. He was witnessing a wonderfull incident in his life as Italy was burning, and there was nothing but football and their national team in everybody’s mind. Amidst all of these, the young Gigi was looking for something different, something could distance his confusion, a perfect role model for his passion. In the end, he reached to the Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N’kono which eventually made him rethink his views on football and his position. Why I play in the midfield, why not goalkeeping? Two posts and white net behind, everybody is trying to hit it, why don’t I protect this bar, to defeat any attempt to hit goal?

Soon after that, Buffon shifted from midfield to goalkeeper, wore his gloves, returned to the first pitch where everybody is rushing to score a goal, ready to defend all those attempts.

The fate gifts him the chance

After becoming confident about his choice to protect the goalpost and realising that he has to try hard to stop any player defeating him and scoring, Buffon moved to Serie A side Parma as their third choice goalkeeper. In 1995 the fate gifted him a rare chance which footballers seldom get. In the absence of first choice keepers Gigi was given a chance to play his first official match against a mighty Milan side coached by Fabio Capello which included the likes of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Franco Baresi in the back and the deadly attacking trio of Ballon d’Or winner George Weah, Italian demi-god Roberto Baggio and Croatian playmaker Zvonimir Boban in front. At the end of the match which was a goalless stalemate, Buffon emerged as the talk of the town excelling in his perfect debut against all the odds.

Buffon has one UEFA Cup with Parma in 1999 photo UEFA

In his four professional seasons with Parma, Buffon won two Italian cups and a European Cup. He played with the shining stars of that era like Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, and Hernan Crespo. Yet his journey of fame did not begin until Juventus announced a deal with the new goalkeeper from Parma for 52 million Euro, which is still the highest transfer fee paid for a goalkeeper in the history of football.

Before the Old Lady showed their interest in Buffon, Roma and Barcelona were trying to lure him. But he knew that the Juventus was searching for a perfect replacement for departing Edwin Van der Sar, and he accepted the offer without any hesitation.

“To be conscious of your place in one of the greatest clubs in the world will make you to win everything” this perception made Gigi the best, the number one who did the impossible with his club. He won Serie A in first two seasons with Juve. But despite his diligence and the team won many games and reached the final of Champions League, a great dream was haunting him every night- to hold that greatest trophy in his hands. But the fate has its own way, they lost in penalty shootout against domestic rivals AC Milan. Buffon was so much depressed after this defeat and he talked about it only after ten Years.

World Cup glory and Calciopoli scandal  

On ninth July 2006, all eyes were in Germany, Italy and France were playing the final match of the eightieth edition of FIFA World Cup in Berlin, the most watched event in the history of Television. With four minutes till the end of the game, all of sudden the world is shocked by watching French hero Zinedine Zidane hitting to the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi and get the marching order. Eventually the Azures won the world cup in Penalty shootout.

Italy players celebrate the 2006 World Cup final victory over France photo FIFA

Buffon not only won the world cup in that night but also voted as the best goalkeeper of the tournament. He was also nominated for the Golden Ball behind Fabio Cannavaro. But unfortunately as an anti-climax, a twist came before the end of World cup victory celebration. Italy was burning by the infamous Calciopoli that hit European football. Unearthed in May 2006, the scandal implicated Italian giants Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina as part of a match-fixing offense in Serie A. The alleged thick network of communication between team Managers and referee organizers for rigging games by selecting favourable match officials was uncovered. The scandal affected Juve, one of the grandest football clubs in the world so badly. Two league titles were taken away from the Turin outfit, they were obliterated from the record books of Italian top flight and the Bianconeri were finally demoted to Serie B after the punishment was reduced from relegating them to third tier, Serie-C.

The team players started to move to other clubs, nobody stayed except Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet. Liverpool was firm to get Buffon, Arsenal also was in the race for the highly rated keeper, the rumours started to flow. Surprisingly on 19th July 2006, Buffon came in front of the media in a breathtaking Turin to say only one word: “I will stay”.

It was strange feeling of that the best goalkeeper of the sixteenth world cup, the world cup winner abruptly waking up from the sleep to play in the second tier. “Initially I thought that I would feel strange in the second league, and it’s a little different, of course, but in the end it’s a 90-minute game, and we have to win, the fans made us feel that nothing has changed.”

The World Cup without Italy

Tournaments like world cup are favourites for the Italians, especially for Buffon. They are four time world champions. And the 2006 world cup so dear to Buffon as he won the best goalkeeper award, and raised the cup and he was nominated for the golden ball after Cannavaro. Now Italy is absent from the world cup first time in sixty years after losing to secure final points against Sweden.

How a team like Italy and goalkeeper like Buffon could not qualify for the world cup? That would disappoint everyone. It is true that Buffon has retired from international football. But watching his national team not playing in the most important championship in the world makes him more frustrated.

Champions League; the unfulfilled dream

Buffon has won a lot of titles, whether it is with Juventus or with Parma before. The best one is of course the World cup. But his one dream still remains, to win the UEFA Champions League. This time it was bad luck for him and he was much disappointed, he says; I have won every title which I wanted, but I could not win it, by each year my age is increasing, and his only wish goes more and more far from him.

When he lost the champions league final against AC Milan he was highly disappointed which he did not show until many years. It seems that disappointment is inevitable when he lost this time, especially against Real Madrid, the team that is approaching the championship monopoly for itself.

In 2014/15 Buffon lost against Barcelona in the final, now in the two consequent seasons they lost against Real Madrid first one in the 2016/17 final, and in 2017/18 in the quarter in the 90-minute goal, in which Buffon was given the red card in his final gme for protesting an injury time penlty awarded to the Los Blancos. Facing Real Madrid has become a real curse which he does not know how to get rid of.

Buffon was sent off in the injury time for protesting a Real Madrid penalty photo tweeted by Mouhamad

Now after winning eight Italian Serie A titles, four league cups, and six super cups, and becoming the player that played most matches with 175 international caps, he bids farewell to the Old Lady after spending an incredible seventeen years in her laps. Now his Breathing becomes less, his heart beats out of fear, he doesn’t know where his direction is, but the love of the masses calls him to complete the journey even in any home other than Juve, with new mates which he never used to play.


This article is an independent translation of its Arabic original published by Sasa Post. Translated by Muhammed Vasil