Monday September 9 2013
A thank you to Buffon

With another landmark just around the corner, Giancarlo Rinaldi pays tribute to the goalkeeping and Italian football institution that is Gianluigi Buffon.

With his eyes closed in concentration, he belts out the words with the same passion he did as a boy. An arm around a teammate, he prepares himself to go into sporting battle once again. Since Rino Gattuso retired, nobody gives their all to L’Inno di Mameli quite like Gigi Buffon.

On Tuesday night, with all probability, he will match the record of another pillar of La Nazionale, Fabio Cannavaro. And, as he moved towards that 136th cap, his powers showed no signs of fading. Once again, Superman saved the day with a couple of breath-taking stops in the vital victory over Bulgaria on Friday night. “You thought I was dead,” his steely gaze seemed to say. “Well, think again.”

This love-affair with the blue of his country started two decades ago. As a 15-year-old he was part of an Italy youth set-up which also featured a certain Francesco Totti at the European Under-16 Championships in Turkey. From that day on he has gone on to play for the national team at every age level with honour and outstanding ability.

I have written before about comparisons between Buffon and another Italian legend, Dino Zoff. It speaks volumes about the qualities of the ‘keeper from Carrara that his only credible competitor for the title of greatest Azzurri No 1 of the modern era is of such a standard. I count myself fortunate to have seen two such stars in action between the posts for Italy.

The thing about Gigi is that he has been an integral part of our story for what seems like a lifetime since making his full international debut in October 1997. In the snows of Moscow, he looked like getting off to a winning start thanks to a Bobo Vieri goal. In an ironic twist of fate, it was Cannavaro, the man whose record he will almost certainly surpass, who knocked an own goal past him to deny him an opening victory.

Since then, he has been through almost every joy and heartache with us. From the embarrassment and anger of defeat by South Korea in 2002 to the ecstasy of lifting the World Cup in Germany four years later and every emotion in between, Buffon has been our constant companion. Like some indomitable ship’s captain standing on the deck during the most terrifying storm, he has transmitted calm and confidence in the most trying of conditions. As long as we have Gigi, you think, we are going to be OK.

It is not just about the saves, although there have been plenty of those over the years. What feels most admirable is his attitude to playing for his country. Most of us can only dream about representing the Azzurri and soon Buffon will have done it more often than anyone else in history. And yet you get the impression that it means as much to him now as it did when he was a teenager in Istanbul back in 1993.

Some of our sporting superstars seem to take international football for granted or, it appears, consider it something of an inconvenience. The slightest niggling knock or fear of getting injured for a forthcoming club fixture and they are more than happy to drop out of a squad or leave the field of play. With Buffon, however, it is quite the contrary. You would have to knock him out with a tranquilliser dart in order to get him to leave the Azzurri without a fuss.

It is that level of commitment which makes him like a lightning conductor for the emotions of us mere supporters. He seems to know how much La Nazionale means to Italians around the world and channels that power into his performances. When he makes a save, we make a save and when we punch the air to celebrate success, he does exactly the same. He might have more ability than most of us could dream of, but that does not make him feel distant. And his post-match comments carry a kind of dry, self-deprecating humour of which Zoff himself would have been proud.

Such has been the searing standard of his displays that he has made most of his understudies and would-be replacements over the years wilt and wither away. No doubt, he will have to put away the gloves some time in the not-too-distant future and we will all start to appreciate the significance of what we have lost. But, in the meantime, as he hammers out the national anthem against the Czech Republic, we should all say a heartfelt “Grazie” for the 136th time.

Have your say...
First I must say that I'm a Juventino and oriundo born in Venezuela. Living in il Veneto has caused some issues with friends as I met tifosi from all clubs.
However, Buffon has that strange ability to unites all tifosi... He makes me proud of my Italian roots and shows all Italians how the anthem should be sung! Regardless of his goalkeeping abilities (which trust me, I have 100% confidence on) i'm proud to say he is OUR captain. Fans & teams from all over the world would be lucky to have him!
on the 11th September, 2013 at 2:48pm
Also would like roncaglia called, he would add another dimension to the squad. We need to score more goals also. The two homes games we have just played we should have won by more in both games. The same excuses about the time of year is pathetic. I don't think we have looked convincing in any of our group games although in typical Italian style we have grinded out wins. We win when it matters but we should be doing a lot better. On a positive we now have 2 games to try out things.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 9:02am
I don't understand how Prandelli considers us great. We beat a poor Czech team 2-1. Balo missed loads of chances and cech played well. Rossi, Di Natale, Cassano should all be in the squad. Insigne and SES should also be getting more playing time. We need to sort out been caught so often on the break to. Playing 3 at the back is our most effective formation. The Czechs had a couple of other chances bar the goal. We need to defend a lot better than we are also.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 8:56am

You're wrong. As always.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 1:56am
@Maldini's Heir

Im with you on the ses scenario. I'm very surprised. He's been playing well the last couple games. Against psv, he hit a absolute rocker a the inside of the bar, did a great match and scored. He should be nursed better. He's still young and have immense talent. Let him play. Regarding balo, I agree. No one can he's spectacular skills, but every now and then its like russian roulette with him. Too often it's something bad. That is worrying.
on the 11th September, 2013 at 1:35am
Forza Azzurri.

Why does CP abandon the 3-5-2 (3-4-2-1) when we go down from a counter and their only attack? I'm sure Conte wouldn't!

Anyway we are through and that's the main thing. Though CP needs to really look at the squad, Giaccherini no final ball, for me outstanding player was Pasqual.
on the 10th September, 2013 at 10:44pm
As for Buffon (to go back to the article) what a legend. The others have a lot to learn from him! END OF RANT
on the 10th September, 2013 at 9:03pm
SES's career seems to be de-railing. SES is reliable, works for the team, keeps things simple (too simple sometimes), covers defensively, plays with enthusiasm and at the age of 19/20 carried his club team. His form dipped slightly (but if you compare his goal record since Christmas to the number of goals Balo scored in open play its not that bad) and he's dropped from club and country. This is a joke. Who do reward? Balo and Osvaldo? I'm delighted we qualified but Balo needs to sort it out..
on the 10th September, 2013 at 9:02pm
rather than getting up and helping the team defend an attack on the edge of the box and then to top it all off he tried a back heel in his own third of the pitch with 5 minutes to go. I'm absolutely sick of his behaviour. He is a liability on the pitch at times and for some reason is unsubstitutable even when he's on a yellow card (which is most games) and is liable to get booked again. BUT at least Balo has ability if he copped on. Osvaldo is a prima donna who offers nothing. Meanwhile....
on the 10th September, 2013 at 8:57pm
We've qualified! All round Prandelli has done really well to get us qualified with relatively little fuss. But....a) what's the story with switching formation constantly and b) what's the story with picking Osvaldo ahead of Insigne and SES. Now as for Balo he scored (another) penalty and he helped get a man sent off BUT he missed sitters, he should've been sent off for a second level for stupidly jumping in a player, he lay on the ground on the edge of our box trying to get a free kick..
on the 10th September, 2013 at 8:47pm

You can sit here all day praising Gigi first and then trying to take him down by mentioning his saving penalties ability. Buffon is the best of saving both with Juve and Azzurri. Two matches, one in which Italy won the world cup, won't change anything, so does your stupid opinion.
on the 10th September, 2013 at 6:42pm
I remember seeing Buffon in NY for the super cup in 2004. There were some catcalls. After all Italy had been eliminated in 2002 by Korea and in 2004 in first round. One guy yelled out Buffon non pare nienti. This coming after Toldo's superb performance in 2000. So in 2006 everything changed. Buffon was incredible allowing only a Pk versus Zidane and Zaccardo's own goal. The saves against a Zidane header in the final may have saved Italy. All to say the weakness I see in Buffon is old age.
on the 10th September, 2013 at 4:48pm
You can sit here mentioning buffon's penalty saves all day. But it wont change my mind. I wont forget his poor shot stopping against France in the WC nor Spain in the Euros
on the 10th September, 2013 at 12:21pm
EURO 2008 v Romania, Italy starring down the barrel of the most humiliating group stage exit after Romania were gifted a penalty. Adrian Mutu blasted a rocket of a penalty, denied by Buffon. I am missing countless more examples that do exist. Just because you are unaware of them, don't be a hero and criticize what you have no idea about
on the 10th September, 2013 at 7:32am
World Cup 2002 knockout v S.Korea, korea given a questionable penalty early in the match, great save.
Champions League SemiFinal 2003, v RealMadrid, luis figo denied by Buffon for Juve to hold out for a famous win and progression to the final.
Champions League Final 2003 Penalty shootouts, 2 SAVES! one being against Clarence Seedorf, with possibily the hardest, low and accurate strike i have ever seen!
on the 10th September, 2013 at 7:26am
And there's always one stupid idiot in DOMINATOR.
on the 10th September, 2013 at 6:35am
I am not Italian nor am I a juventus fan but buffon is without a doubt one of the great. Who here can say that they are not worried that their team not only have to get by the defense but also buffon. Ppl can criticize him all they want but no one can say they expect him to mess up or are not surprised when he does. I would still take him over any other keeper today
on the 9th September, 2013 at 9:51pm
Legend a word used to often for average players but certainly not in Gigi's case. Iremember Gigi play for the under 21's and thinking a star in the making and even when he was called into action in Russia there was no fear, I knew he would not let the Auzzuri down. I have been lucky to see some great Italian keepers from Zoff, Zenga, to name 2 but Buffon certainly tops my list. Closely followed by Zoff. As for Passion for the Auzzuri look when he sings the national Anthem. It certainly lift you
on the 9th September, 2013 at 8:45pm
Gigi Buffon is one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. He is great at getting the defence organised. Its a shame that the defence is missing world class players like Nesta, Cannavaro and Maldini. The only weakness Gigi has is saving pens. Toldo was great at that. Italy had some fantastic keepers when he was younger.

I think he can play for another 4 years. A lot of goalkeepers last until their early 40s. Remember he is a world champion. No one like him! Unique. Legend.
on the 9th September, 2013 at 7:22pm
Without a doubt a beacon of professionalism for any young player to follow. Classy move to stay with Juve when they were relegated (when others jumper ship).

Definitely was Italy's MVP during WC2006.

I hope we see him through the 2014WC. He makes every player on our team 10% better knowing he is back there.

Forza Gigi & orza Azzurri!!
on the 9th September, 2013 at 4:29pm
The Curious Case of Gianluigi Buffon!

Thank you for this great article.

“Grazie”, Grazie Buffon...
on the 9th September, 2013 at 4:26pm
A nice tribute to not only a great warrior but a humble, brutally honest player. Let's hope when he retires another great goalie will have taken inspiration from Gigi's qualities and personality and not make the transition to post-Gigi Azzurri too drastic.
on the 9th September, 2013 at 2:39pm
A true legend without doubt. There have been some greats over the years but GIGI is still number 1!!
on the 9th September, 2013 at 2:29pm
Gigi "super man" buffon have everything that makes him a great leader... i get scared by the fact he is not gona be our leader in few years :(
in my opinon our best shot of getting a goal keeper with half of buffon skills is nicola leali
on the 9th September, 2013 at 1:53pm
Viviano will be the next Buffon....LOL. No seriously though, Azzurri needs a succession plan for Buffon.
on the 9th September, 2013 at 1:49pm
The best goalkeeper of all time. We are so lucky to have him. We all love him. He is a hero. He is world class and a great man. It would be amazing if we could win another world cup or euros before he finishes international football. Buffon lifting the Euros in 2016 then retiring from international football us a dream. Its a shame he has had a few injuries or he could have at least another 30 caps by now. Enjoy tomorrow Gigi you deserve it. Lets win big and keep a clean sheet. A legend.
on the 9th September, 2013 at 1:48pm
Yes...he is the Great One!
on the 9th September, 2013 at 12:48pm
huge fan of Buffon, think he is great and charismatic. That being said it is only fair i also add my criticism of him.

I find his penalty saving extremely poor especially in big games. Also, this one game against Bulgaria doesnt make up for some of his poor shot stopping.

Great goalkeeper, big fan, was the best in the world, but at the moment, i think Neur, Casilias and Cech are a bit better. Actually im not sure about Cech.
on the 9th September, 2013 at 12:26pm
Simply the greatest goalkeeper ever and at 35 he's still one of the top 5 keepers in the World. Juve and Italy are half the team without him. An absolute legend, grazie GiGi
on the 9th September, 2013 at 11:26am
I said it many times, and will say it every time there's a talk about Gigi.

He is by far the BEST of his generation and the best ever in football history. He embodies the perfect and complete goalkeeper.

And when he raises his hand through the air, signaling that his is number one, we all say: "Yes Gigi, you are number one".

Thank you Gigi, il numero uno.
on the 9th September, 2013 at 10:11am

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