Gigi Buffon discussed his early career, why “you need to be a little masochistic” as a goalkeeper and why “it’s exciting to be in the eye of the storm.”
The Juventus and Italy legend sat down for a lengthy interview with the Corriere dello Sport newspaper.
“I started out as a midfielder and was pretty good. At Carrara we played in a pathway surrounded by plants, which obviously acted as imaginary goalposts.
“We’d actually play in the street too, but there were few cars and we’d just dribble round them anyway.
“I liked to play further forward and score goals, as every kid all over the world does. I wasn’t bad and in fact played in that role in a Massa team that included Cristiano Zanetti and Marco Rossi, players who ended up in Serie A.
“I was good in midfield, but if I’d continued there, I fear I would not have had the career I did as a goalkeeper. Becoming a shot-stopper was one of those ‘Sliding Doors’ moments that happen in everyone’s life.
“The goalkeeper we had in the team was injured, so I gave it a go. I showed good abilities, which frankly even I wasn’t expecting.
“My real love for this role was during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. I was 12 years old and did not fall in love with Diego Maradona or Gary Lineker, nor even Roger Milla, but of Thomas N’Kono. The Cameroon goalkeeper was already 34 at the time, but he became a dream for me and changed my life.
“It is thanks to him, involuntarily, that I arrived where I did. He was a goalkeeper who thought outside the box, made some fantastic punches to clear, all things we weren’t used to seeing. It was love at first sight for N’Kono, but above all for his role.
“My father, who has always been a great sports fan, encouraged me to try for another year and then go back to being a forward. I accepted, thinking it’d be a year of detox from midfield, but I stepped between those posts and never left.
“I am grateful to my father, to N’Kono and to the injured player I replaced.”
Buffon was so thankful to N’Kono that he even named his son Thomas after the Cameroon legend.
He also explained that he was in the process of agreeing terms with Bologna and Milan after trial runs, but Parma stepped in and showed immense determination to sign him.
“The goalkeeper is the most difficult role in the sport. You need to be a little masochistic to play in a role where every mistake leads to a goal. That’s very different to missing a goal. The former is a certifiable negative, the latter a virtual possibility.
“I must also say that, at least for me, this is what makes the challenge more interesting and intriguing. I want to put it like this: I am proud to be a goalkeeper.
“If the three points are at stake, your thoughts are always on the action, predicting almost geometrically where the dangers will come from. However, when the result is locked down or the game less important, your mind does wonder to everyday life issues or you often look at the crowd. That’s the truth, but a good goalkeeper never gets distracted when the team needs him.
“The most important thing for a goalkeeper is the sense of certainty you transmit to others. You have to transmit that, regardless of what you might actually be feeling. Even if you are not sure of yourself, you need to let others believe you have control of the situation and they can rely on you.
“An insecure goalkeeper leads to an insecure team. You also need mental solidity to last a long time and make few mistakes. If you think about it, all the great goalkeepers had long careers.”
Buffon explains this is also important when a shot-stopper does commit a howler.
“It is perhaps there that you see the real quality of a Number 1. The next game, or even the next move after the error, you are filled with remorse and indecision. The more you make mistakes, the more you can make other errors, because your confidence can be attacked.
“But for me it’s the other way round. For me, right at that moment of the mistake begins a part of the challenge wrapped up in the most difficult job in football.
“Being in the eye of the storm is exciting to me. I have to prove that, having made a mistake, I slipped, but did not fall. I am right back on my feet to begin again.”
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