You often see the term ‘GOAT’ appear on social media now and, after realising it doesn’t refer to a bovid, it is regularly bandied about for those who in no conceivable way can be considered the Greatest Of All Time. That is a huge expanse of history to cover and only one coveted spot in their particular niche. There can only be one GOAT. Having said all that, in terms of goalkeepers, it’s Gianluigi Buffon.
You may disagree with this statement. Here is why you are wrong. Buffon has been at the top of the sport for well over 20 years, parrying shots from the brightest talents who weren’t even born when he was already at a World Cup. There are few more reactive shot-stoppers out there even now, let alone in his prime, and despite all the praise of Manuel Neuer’s sweeper-keeper antics, you may have noticed that SuperGigi is also excellent with the ball at his feet. He doesn’t run out to midfield every 10 minutes because there is no need to. That’s what defences and Leonardo Bonucci are for.
Above all else, Buffon has grown to become a true captain and great man who anyone in football should appreciate. His post-match comments are always respectful, humble and avoid the banal soundbites we have to deal with after every other game. He speaks in complete sentences and has a point to get across, not muttering just for the sake of it. When there’s a crisis, he is the man you want to rally the troops and get everyone focused. When his teammates risk getting ahead of themselves, Gigi’s old head will talk them back down to earth, because he’s seen and done it all.
As for the ridiculous ‘scandals’ that people try to point to, they are non-existent. The idea he had far-right leanings were borne from misunderstandings and his own self-confessed ignorance. He didn’t know the motto ‘Boia chi molla’ (Those who give up are killing the cause) was a Fascist-era slogan. He probably couldn’t have known, as back then he was a teenager and we didn’t have Wikipedia to look this stuff up. Dark times, people. Dark, dark times… He placed a few bets on games he wasn’t involved in, which at that time was not against the rules. Big deal. He even went through an entirely amicable divorce with no splashy headlines or kiss-and-tell stories. Buffon insults nobody, disrespects nobody and disowns Juventus fans for Superga graffiti.
No doubt someone will have now noted ‘well he hasn’t lifted the Champions League or the Ballon d’Or, has he?’ The Ballon d’Or is like the Oscar for Best Director – rarely goes to the right person and is clearly voted for by those who have seen about three films that year, but know the big name, especially if he’s a striker.
It’s a team sport and only one side in all of Europe can win that trophy per year. Winning a World Cup is harder and he’s achieved that – for Italy, I might add, but being an Azzurri legend apparently doesn’t warrant respect from fans who can’t see past the Juventus shirt. Italian football gets criticised enough without us calcio supporters actively hoping another club loses in Europe.
It pains me to see people snipe at Buffon with images of Andriy Shevchenko’s 2003 Champions League-winning penalty. What tiny, pathetic creatures to do such a thing. What futile little trolls. I support Milan and screamed louder than anyone when that spot-kick went in, but I know football is about winning, not relishing the tears of your opponents. If you haven’t learned that yet, well, then grow up. Be more like Gianluigi Buffon. It can only be an improvement.