The Champions League remains the only major club trophy that Gianluigi Buffon has never won. Richard Hall looks back at the near misses.
“It would mean a lot for me to win the Champions League. It would be the greatest joy of my career, together with the World Cup, because it would almost be a reward — the end of a very difficult road paved by bravery, stubbornness and hard work.” — Gigi Buffon on the Champions League in 2017.
At club level, there is only one major trophy which continues to elude Gianluigi Buffon. It's his white whale, the Moby Dick to his Ahab. On three occasions the goalkeeper has been forced to trudge past the Champions League trophy, his anguished reflection staring back at him from the polished surface of the trophy which lies just tantalisingly out of reach.
It's a story which has been playing out for 15 years, a story of near misses and heartbreak.
Gigi Buffon would win a plethora of awards this term including UEFA Goalkeeper of the year, Serie A ‘keeper of the year, and of course the Scudetto. Bear in mind that Kylian Mbappé, who faced Gigi in last years semi-final for Monaco, was four years old at the time. That tells you all you need to know about Buffon’s longevity.
Even so, many moons ago this Champions League final would see an all Italian affair and it was partly down to the heroics of the Juventus custodian that his team made in to Manchester. Buffon saved a Luis Figo penalty in the semi-final against Real Madrid to help his team go through 4-3 on aggregate to face the Rossoneri.
In the final he was instrumental, saving a Filippo Inzaghi header early in the first half before the game went to penalties. Despite saving two in the shootout the Bianconeri lost 3-2.
“I was so close to winning it,” Buffon proclaimed afterward. “I saved two penalties in that final, Strange things happen, In sport and life, those who deserve it more probably end up getting the rewards.”
If it was meant to happen anywhere surely it was Berlin? After all Gigi Buffon had won the World Cup here with Italy just under a decade previously.
The omens looked good. He had won the usual Supercoppa Italiana, a number of individual awards, and by now Serie A was a given for Juventus. Massimiliano
Allegri had taken over from Antonio Conte and, with an extra element of tactical expertise, had steered his team to the final.
Once again Buffon Real Madrid were defeated in the semi-finals and it didn’t escape anyone’s notice that the similarities to 2003 were incredible - apart from one.
In Berlin Juve would face a Barcelona that had Lionel Messi, Neymar et al ready and waiting. The 3-1 defeat may have been sad for Buffon, but he couldn’t argue against it. Indeed, the game would have been over by half-time were it not for some crucial interventions from the Bianconeri goalkeeper, including a stunning save from Dani Alves.
A brief second half rally aside, the Old Lady simply succumbed to Catalan supremacy.
“In 2015, we lost it at that moment, when Barcelona were on the ropes,” Buffon later acknowledged. “We let in a goal on the counter-attack, Messi hammered a shot on goal, I diverted it and Suarez scored.”
Despite his own fantastic performance, Buffon once again had to trudge past the big-eared trophy.
Buffon’s sixth straight Scudetto season also saw him return to the Champions League final for the third time aged 39. Knowing it could be the great man’s last chance, most of Europe was willing him on to win it.
Gigi made his 100th Champions League appearance against Monaco in the semis, second only to Paolo Maldini in terms of Italian appearances in the competition.
He played well in a 4-1 aggregate win against Monaco where he was only beaten by the aforementioned Kylian Mbappé. The final in Cardiff, however, was to be no dream finish as a dominant Madrid who ran out 4-1 winners. Casemiro’s 60th minute shot was cruelly deflected past Buffon when the game was at 1-1, Juventus never recovered, and another final was lost.
It may be that Buffon never manages to get his hands on the one major trophy which has eluded him. In what seems certain to be his final season, it appears unlikely we’ll see the goalkeeper in another Champions League final.
Juventus may once again show that a regenerated team can push all the way, and many will hope they can, if only for their legendary goalkeeper. After Italy missed out on the World Cup, a fitting finish to his career would finally lifting that trophy. One would even wager that the brilliant Wojciech Szczesny, Buffon’s heir apparent, would have no complaints about being named on the bench in that situation.