BLOG ITALIA
Wednesday November 16 2011
Zoff or Buffon – who is No 1?

Gigi Buffon joined Dino Zoff on 112 caps this week. Giancarlo Rinaldi bravely asks who out of the two goalkeepers is Italy’s greatest.

I can remember the day that Dino Zoff finally put his Italy gloves away for good. It felt like an historic moment because for most of my lifetime there had never been anyone else guarding the Azzurri goal. We would surely never see his like again.

Yet on Tuesday night, in defeat by Uruguay, another net-minder matched his record of 112 international caps. What often seemed an impossible landmark has now been equalled and, in a matter of months, will surely be surpassed. Just like his famous predecessor, Gigi Buffon has become the nation's undisputed No 1.

But how do they stack up head-to-head? That is the real intriguing question in my mind. I have been lucky enough to watch them both plenty of times and should be in a decent position to judge. Yet I find it a bit like having to choose between a Barolo and an Amarone. In other words, both are truly world class.

Their international records are remarkably similar. A World Cup triumph in their pockets, defeat percentages of less than 20 per cent and dozens of clean sheets for their country. Even a stats lover would find it hard to split them.

So it then comes down to more subjective matters. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How tough was the opposition they faced in their respective eras? How good were the teams they had around them?

To take that last question first, I'd say Zoff had a bit of an edge. No disrespect to the modern generation of defenders, but playing behind the likes of Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea made any goalkeeper's life more easy. The fact that they were club colleagues at Juve for much of their careers only made that defensive rock more solid.

In terms of opposition, the case is more debatable. There were fewer international fixtures back in the 1970s, but there definitely were more pushover sides. Equally, Buffon never faced a group of death like his counterpart did at the World Cup in 1982. Let's call it honours even.

The third element is again a matter of taste. Zoff seemed to transmit a great calm to the rest of his team. Those who know him best say he has a wicked sense of humour, but he kept it well hidden under a craggy, Friuli exterior. His was an efficient style which was rarely flashy but, vitally, let in very few goals. His reputation was tarnished by long-range strikes which whistled past him at Argentina ‘78. However, he had the resilience to fight back and win a World Cup at a pensioner's age in football terms.

Buffon is more a product of the modern school of goalkeeping. His positioning and shot-stopping are outstanding, but he is also more of a physical presence than Zoff was. His ‘Superman’ nickname owes much to the miraculous speed with which he can launch himself from the ground to thwart an apparently easy follow-up shot. It is a mark of his dominance that many of his competitors for the Italy job seem to wither when given the opportunity to play. To be fair, Zoff did this too – go ask Ivano Bordon.

Nonetheless, I'd give the Carrara ‘keeper a slight edge as an all-round player. This might have as much to do with how the physical standards of the game have risen in the past four decades. It also, handily for me, leaves honours even in my overall assessment of the two.

But I hate such wishy-washy sitting-on-the-fence conclusions. Hand on heart, if I had to pick someone to make a save that my life depended on, I would edge towards Buffon. There seem to me to be fewer chinks in his armour than Zoff possessed. But, in truth, it is like making me choose between an espresso and a grappa at the end of a meal. Couldn't I just have both?

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Have your say...
great article yes both are greats but i think gigi gets this 1 for me what he did in 2006 along with cannavaro and pirlo i will never forget .as for baggio v del piero theres no argument here baggio with out doubt the greatest italian footballer of our erait was a joy towatch in in the blue shirt everytime and its just sad he never got to lift the world cup trophy cause he surely deserved to.
on the 22nd November, 2011 at 12:22pm
theres absolutely no competition between delpiero and baggio and whoever compares delpiero to mr divino goddino is a joker as for zoff i only saw him in replays of espana 82 so i cant judge him favourably to gigi of whom have seen since his debut at parma
on the 22nd November, 2011 at 8:45am
Lets compare again when Gigi retired and has worked as Italia's head coach.. haha.. salute to both living legends.
on the 21st November, 2011 at 10:12am
I wouldn't compare them. They are both National treasures, legends, and we, as Italians, are lucky to be able to say that we have had two keepers of such quality. As for Baggio vs Del Piero, for me there is no contest. Del Piero is a great player, but Baggio was a phenomenon. For Baggio to produce what he did, whilst playing with that almost crippling knee injury; which he sustained as a teenager, is nothing short of a miracle. For me, he was the Messi of his day!
on the 19th November, 2011 at 11:49am
I cannot separate them, they are both national treasures. You cannot compare Baggio and Del Piero! Del Piero is a great player, but Baggio was a god. In my opinion, Baggio is the most gifted player of all time. And the scary thing is that he could have been even better, had he not suffered that terrible injury, as a teenager.
on the 19th November, 2011 at 11:32am
Buffon is the best keeper that has ever been in this game.. Respect to Zoff but Gigi got this one.
on the 19th November, 2011 at 2:46am
I never saw Zoff play but Buffon is the kind that makes you forget other goaltenders....that save on Zidane's header at the 2006 World Cup final sums his attributes up-cat-like reflexes,lion-like heart and the attentiveness of a panther!
Forza Gigi!
on the 19th November, 2011 at 12:12am
Pasta fagioli NO Spaghetti, No Pasta fagioli. Why give me such a difficult choice. I want both. Both are legends in their on right and I have been lucky enough to have a taste of both.
on the 18th November, 2011 at 10:14pm
I think modern keepers have to be more skillful with their feet (no hands on back passes) and also with the lighter (ever moving) modern ball it sure is more difficult. That though are changes of rules and equipment, that can't still can't tell a talent of player from the past. Comparison should be made from those who played at the same era, period!
on the 18th November, 2011 at 9:09pm
'it is like making me choose between an espresso and a grappa at the end of a meal. Couldn't I just have both?' lol nice. i think it would first be the espresso, then a shot of grappa :) Buffon please! respect always to Zoff
on the 17th November, 2011 at 3:51pm
Just one further point. I was born in 1982 so never actually saw Dino Zoff play live. But one thing I do know is that Dino Zoff also happened to be a great keeper during a time when keepers didn't wear gloves. he was making all those amazing saves in the 1960s and 70s without having access to the technology that the likes of Gigi and other keepers today take for granted. I never really take these types of comparison arguments seriously. both have been wonderful servants to the national side!
on the 17th November, 2011 at 3:09pm
This is a pointless argument unless you ask people who have been lucky enough to see both live in action. The kids who have grown up over the last decade will of course pick Gigi. how and why wouldn't they? Dino Zoff's record might have been equalled and will of course be eventually beaten by Gigi, but there is no doubting that Gigi will never match Dino Zoff on the longevity question. Dino Zoff played more than 300 consecutive matches for Juve at one stage.
on the 17th November, 2011 at 3:03pm
It's too hard to choose to be honest especially in terms of their contribution to team success, both at club and national side levels. But, if we look at their trophies so Zoff for now is leading with his Euro at national side and European club victories.
P.S. Baggio with no doubts is the best but let's wait for an article
on the 17th November, 2011 at 2:25pm
I'm not a Juve a fan but Buffon is just amazing. One of those players you (not-so) secretly wish your team had. Likewise for Zoff. Different eras but same distinction: Pure class.
on the 17th November, 2011 at 9:50am
With all due respect to Buffon for me I would choose Zoff. Imagine having a "goldkeeper" and the only Italian to have lifted the European Championship & World Cup trophy on his CV. He is a legend.
on the 17th November, 2011 at 9:04am
"Hand on heart, if I had to pick someone to make a save that my life depended on, I would edge towards Buffon."
Thanks Giancarlo, you ended the debate!

Del Piero or R.Baggio ?? Another espresso and a grappa ??
on the 17th November, 2011 at 6:48am
Like Sadia and Husam I did not have the opportunity to see Zoff in action, but I saw Buffon in the action whenever that Italy plays and also Juventus. Buffon is a legend and has the ability to spot the balls. Buffon is better than Zoff.
on the 17th November, 2011 at 6:27am
Both keepers are the greatest to have played the game. They are better than Yashin, Banks, Schmeichel and Kahn.

Who's better out of the two? Buffon. I love Zoff but in some big games, he was suspect to long-range efforts. Watch Italy v Poland at WC 74, Italy v Holland at WC 78 and the 1983 European Cup Final to see what I mean. Buffon is the complete package. Buffon was a regular at Parma at 17 and went from strength to strength. Zoff didn't play at Mexico 70 despite playing in the Euro 68 win.
on the 17th November, 2011 at 2:05am
Its a draw! I remember seeing Buffon for the first time against Russia in the north pole! Amazing, I mean I don't know any Italian that would go out in that weather but he went a step further and not only went out in the snow but rolled around in it... Guess that gives him the edge.... So I was wrong! 1-0 Buffon!
on the 17th November, 2011 at 12:56am
Zoff was a little bit before my time, but since I've been interested in Football, Buffon has been the greatest goal keeper I've seen. In that time there have been some awesome keepers like Schmichael, Zenga, Peruzzi, Pagliuca, Toldo, Van der Sar, Reina and Casilias, but when I saw a teenage Buffon brave the elements in the Snow in that playoff from hell in Russia all those years ago, he made that number 1 jersey his own and I knew we had unearthed a gem.
on the 16th November, 2011 at 11:47pm
To Giancarlo and all others, I totaly agree with you, in 70s and 80s they play other way of calcio. It is like you compare Mike Tyson and Muhamed Ali. It is dificult to decide, it is impossible. Back then they play 3-5-2 and now they play with 4 in the back. Like I say it is calcio with much more speed, strength and tactics. But I adore both of them. Like I adore Italy and Juve.
on the 16th November, 2011 at 11:05pm
i think buffon, he is one of the main reason why italy won the world cup of 2006 and as @sasko said, he has saved our net so many times, it is surprising that he has come back from a back injury that should have cost his career. Forza Juve
on the 16th November, 2011 at 10:08pm
Buffon was good. I think he has commenced his downward spiral now. I never saw Zoff but I would bet that Buffon is better. The article should probably be between Buffon and Casillas as that is more hotly contested than Zoff. I would give Buffon the edge but now I think he just has too many fans living in the past. He is now just a guy that mostly sits in the treatment room and makes standard saves. I think the decline of Italian footy and Juve as a team contributes to his ordinary performances.
on the 16th November, 2011 at 9:05pm
With all due respect, Dino Zoff is the legend and all-time national goalie for the Azzurri, no matter how many more games Buffon plays. It's the talent and mind set that Dino has over Gigi. I'm very lucky to both play and how they both developed. Today's game has a more physical approach, rather than a very strong mental one. So the master will be always go to the men who create history for the men of the further and that would be DINO ZOFF.
on the 16th November, 2011 at 8:05pm
I saw them both play and have game tape of both...Buffon's only problem was his durability having gone down in 2000 and again in 2010...Otherwise, he was heads and above the keeper Zoff was...I would say Zoff was a great leader, especially on a team with the likes of Scirea, Tardelli and Cabrini...But you cant discount the modern era and the physical prowess Buffon has over Zoff...
on the 16th November, 2011 at 8:02pm
Equally as good as each other. Don't forget Walter Zenga, in the best keepers list.
on the 16th November, 2011 at 5:15pm
Buffon is the man!! Zoff also is a ledge, I saw an article the other week where it said Morgan De Sanctis was better than Buffon - it made me laugh, it must have been a joke!!
on the 16th November, 2011 at 4:00pm
Very nice comparison. My call will be Gigi Superman Buffon. As a Juve fan I can't remember how many times he saved our net. To be honest a comparison between him and Zoff is like an espresso and grappa - have both. Zoff was world class. But Gigi is one and only. I find only one problem with him.Hhe is the worst 'keeper of the penalty shots in the world.
on the 16th November, 2011 at 3:57pm
Overall, I think with the speed and technique of the modern game, Buffon is numero uno now. Apart from the fact he will surely surpass signor Zoff in terms of number of caps, as you quite rightly point out, there were much fewer international matches in the past when Zoff was keeping for Italy, also the standards of international football has risen greatly in the last 20 years, (there are no easy games now), although Brazil v Italy in 82 was epic. Grappa and espresso 4 me too, please!
on the 16th November, 2011 at 3:36pm
Like Husam I did not have the opportunity to see Zoff in action but I have read a lot about him, and he is a legend, but I would go for Buffon. Football has changed a lot since the days that Zoff was between the sticks, so I think it's a bit unfair to compare the two. In my mind a good goalkeeper has to command respect, which I think Buffon does in abundance, and have the ability to shrug of past mistakes but always have the ability to learn from them. Buffon is only 33 and still getting better!
on the 16th November, 2011 at 3:25pm

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