Superman lives and the greatest goalkeeper in Italy just gets better with age, writes Richard Hall.
Gigi Buffon once said ‘Destiny made me become a goalkeeper’ and after 21 years at the top level of European and World football, one cannot disagree with him. At 38 years of age the Juventus custodian has put in one of the best seasons of his entire career and broken new ground. Whilst the Peninsula has marvelled at the talents of Paul Pogba and the goals of Gonzalo Higuain, the consistency, brilliance and class of the Azzurri goalkeeper have been simply breathtaking.
The Old Lady’s ever-dependable ‘keeper spent the season gracefully surpassing records of some of Italy’s great shot-stoppers. Dino Zoff’s 903 minutes without conceding a Serie A goal was the first to go and soon he closed in on the number one spot. As the former Milan goalkeeper, Sebastiano Rossi, squirmed and attempted a smile in the TV studios, Gigi surpassed his 973-minute record in a 4-1 win against Torino in the Derby Della Mole. The longevity of his career and the records he has broken this season are truly amazing, yet they are not the even half of the reasons why he has impressed so much this term.
After Juventus played out a fiery affair in Florence, winning 2-1, Alvaro Marotta said “we won because of a player who is not human, Buffon is superhuman.” The man between the posts had just pulled off another superlative save from Nikola Kalinic’s penalty before incredibly stopping the rebound too. This is just one of a catalogue of saves the veteran has made this term and just look at the game against Milan for more evidence.
The fact is, whilst Juventus have without doubt defended well this year, they have not left Buffon with nothing to do. As the season has gone on, he has been called into action more and more and his heroics have allowed his team to weather the bad times almost seamlessly.
In 35 Serie A games this season he has kept an incredible 21 clean sheets and made 63 saves in the process, which is a high number considering he is playing for the league champions. His calmness under pressure and his character has spread through the squad and it is evident by the huge admiration his teammates bestow on him. He has now signed on for another two years and is still showing signs of improvement. His work ethic and huge confidence rather than arrogance has allowed him to continue to develop.
Zoff referred to Buffon as ‘a great Champion’ but this simple remark embodies everything that he is. He is consistency itself, he is maturity, he is physically incredible, he constantly adapts, is always looking to test himself and more than that he never tires of winning. As Gigi wrote in his emotional letter to the goal, he wants to “shield her against all enemies” and this season he has done so in spectacular fashion.