This weekend’s big clash between Milan and Juventus involves quite an intriguing subtext for one Juve player. Way back in 1995 a nervous 17-year-old Gianluigi Buffon, fresh from the Primavera side, made his Parma debut against the then-mighty Rossoneri. The champions elect were top of the table, yet despite legendary strikers Roberto Baggio and George Weah were held to a 0-0 draw, following the young ‘keeper’s superb performance. This Sunday Buffon plays them again but this time he is captain of Juventus, topping the table, super confident and it’s his team that are champions elect.
A lot has happened since that memorable November day when Buffon started his path to becoming arguably Italy’s best ever goalkeeper. Yet the fact remains that he isn’t getting any younger and at 36 his future with Juve seems up in the air, according to his agent.
“At the moment, I can’t say for certain what’s going to happen,” said Silvano Martina recently. “Maybe he’ll retire this summer, maybe he’ll leave, maybe he’ll stay, I just don’t know.” There are some who feel if Buffon thinks like this that he should retire sooner rather than later. A captain’s mood can determine the disposition of the whole team and to be so unsure of his future may just undermine the whole winning ethos Buffon for one has worked so hard to maintain.
There are also claims that in the Champions League, especially against top class opposition like Bayern Munich last year, his performances are not up to scratch. Then there are his injuries, especially to his back, which have been so serious that on a couple of occasions almost ended his career.
Nevertheless, his time isn’t quite up yet, he is still signed until June 2015 and undoubtedly still has the quality to lift a third consecutive Scudetto. However, according to some, including former Juve Coach Fabio Capello, that’s not too difficult as Serie A standards have dropped compared to previous seasons. “Juve are good in Italy and bad out of it,” he said. “There is no competition for them in Serie A, and therefore, no proper workouts.”
With this in mind and the fact that Juve have an undoubtedly strong defence, perhaps now is the time they should think about introducing a newcomer for next season. Reports suggest that they are already looking at Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp as Gigi’s long term replacement this summer. They could also bring back a couple of young on loan ‘keepers. If that is the case, perhaps Buffon could be more valuable by staying on the sidelines. From there he could instruct them and always be ready to step in if things don’t go according to plan.
The values of leadership can sometimes be underestimated in football and Buffon could be a real asset to make his replacement believe he has what it takes to play for Juve. He can also explain to less experienced players what is needed, how best to represent Juve and be the shining light youngsters can aspire to.
Certainly Juve have a class of talent that can look up to him with no less than 10 ‘keepers on their books. These include the highly thought of youngsters on loan in Serie B, like Nicola Leali at Spezia and Laurentiu Branescu at Lanciano. Away from Turin is Genoa’s Mattia Perin, who at 20 has already played for the Azzurri and has, according to Dino Zoff, the potential and the ability to become Buffon’s heir.
Juve also possess much strength in their youth system with 18-year-olds Sergio Citti and Gianmarco Vannucchi impressing with every passing game. Yet, perhaps the one with the most potential is 17-year-old Audero Emil, who has already played in the Primavera and is an Azzurri U-18 starlet.
Despite this potential, none are quite ready to step up to the top level just yet. It is all down to Buffon because he is still the best and the arguments and discussions can go on interminably about who can take his place if he retires.
And whether that is this summer or not, the only thing we do know for sure is that one day it will happen. So, while we wait lets just enjoy Gigi for what he has brought to Italian football since that stunning debut almost two decades ago.