GIANLUIGI BUFFON SPECIAL

Football Italia’s archives include this moment when our team tried form a Serie A best XI from the first 100 issues of the magazine…

December 2003 – Football Italia marks its centenary issue by putting together a Serie A Dream Team of the past 100 issues. Competition for the starting XI is tough, but there is no doubting Gigi Buffon’s place in between the sticks.

The following was first published in the December 2003 issue of Calcio Italia magazine. The gallery below shows the article in its original presentation, followed by who the rest of the Football Italia staff listed in their starting XIs, whilst Dave Taylor names his best Stranieri.

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DREAM TEAM

What better way to stir up controversy than pick a Serie A dream team of the last decade. But in our centenary issue that’s what Calcio Italia Editor John D Taylor does - with some differing views from Calcio Italia colleagues

Obviously any team covering the first 100 issues of this magazine must include such superstars as Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard? Sorry, think again. Surely then a place for current Azzurri kingpins Francesco Totti, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro? Well, they get close but don’t make the final cut. Nor do superstars like Edgar Davids, Christian Vieri, Pippo Inzaghi or Alex Del Piero. So what about dependable old servants like Roberto Donadoni, Pietro Vierchowod or Beppe Signori? Nope, can’t even find room for them as substitutes.

As my staff of the past decade will concede, I’m a hard man to please. All those already mentioned have had their moments in making this a special ten years. Yet I’ve gone for men who’ve provided specific and special memories for me from my early days as founding Editor of this magazine and my earlier life as the first Producer of the Channel 4’s groundbreaking Football Italia programmes.

I’ve watched some incredible players and been lucky enough to meet many of them. But none of this would have been possible without the kick-start given to Italian football by a certain mixed up Englishman. It was Gazza who gave the early programmes their viewer appeal - just as a current England hero is currently doing for Spanish football with home audiences. Like David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne was as well known for his off-field antics as for his genius on the pitch.

Whether it was his burping at an Italian TV crew, almost getting his hand ripped off by a supposedly docile tiger or diving into his swimming pool fully clothed, Gazza was headline news. Bored senseless in his Rome retreat, he welcomed the weekly visit of C4’s roving reporter James Richardson. No request was turned down whether it be putting his head inside a giant chocolate egg, riding pillion through Rome or pretending to scoff pizzas and booze-laden feast in answer to critics who said he was too fat. We didn’t realise then that what we were seeing would turn out to be the real Gascoigne.

I did have an inkling. Having been ITV’s Producer with the England team during Italia ’90, I’d witnessed many Jim Rosenthal interviews being interrupted by a manic Gazza blowing raspberries or splashing dementedly in the pool. Having upset our poor soundman once too often, Bobby Robson told him to stop rushing round like a headless chicken. But even the England manager had to laugh when minutes later the joyful Tynesider popped out of the hotel kitchens carrying – you’ve guessed it – a fully plucked chicken.

It was the midfielder’s special performances on the field which helped England reach the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup. And it was more than just his tears at the end of the penalty shoot-out which helped spark Lazio’s interest. Even when his self-destruct button was first pushed in the 1991 FA Cup Final with a desperate challenge on Gary Charles that brought about his own horrific knee problems, the Rome club never gave up on him.

He eventually joined them 18 months late from Spurs. And while Gazza played only 41 games and scored six goals in his three injury-hit seasons in Serie A, Lazio concede he helped turn them from country bumpkins into a recognised ‘big time’ club. Dino Zoff, a true Azzurri legend, has never been one to be over-impressed by a fellow footballer. Yet during his time as Lazio’s boss he not only tolerated the oddball but also became quite protective of his Jekyll and Hyde player.

For all his roguish behaviour off the field, Gazza could be a genius on it during those rare occasions he was fully fit. That odd combination appealed to us all. That’s why they tuned in by their millions just to see if he was in the Lazio team on a Sunday afternoon. His endorsement of the magazine and those early articles by him and about him provoked a similar enthusiastic response from our readers. 

Is it any wonder then that he was the first man down on my Dream Team of the Decade? And the second was another whose career was also wrecked too early by injury. Unlike many of Gascoigne’s problems, Marco Van Basten’s weren’t self-afflicted. The only way the opposition could often stop this Goal King was by dubious means. Like Pele a quarter of a century before, he was kicked from pillar to post.

But not before his 90 goals in just 147 Serie A appearances had helped steer Milan to the Scudetto in 1988, 1992 and 1993. The modest Dutchman was the catalyst that made Silvio Berlsuconi’s Rossoneri the best team in the world during his five-year stay. Am I over-egging it? Not when you consider his goals helped Milan win two European Cups, two European Super Cups, two Inter-Continental Cups and two Italian Super Cups on top of that hat-trick of titles.

A product of the revered Ajax youth system, he was voted European Player of the Year three times. Early Italia viewers and readers only got to glimpse his immense talents before a cruel ankle injury finally ended his career. Typically, his last appearance was in a European Cup Final when he was only 29. There should have been many more honours and lots more goals.

But his record is still immense. He was pacey, two-footed and strong in the air and that’s why he edges out current scoring super stars like Christian Vieri and Andriy Shevchenko from my all-star line-up. However, I’m not all about nostalgia. Six current players make my list – three in defence. And that’s despite the legitimate claims of great professionals like Alessandro Costacurta, Beppe Bergomi and Pietro Vierchowod

My back four includes present day stars Cafu, Ciro Ferrara and Paolo Maldini. Between them they’ve won every honour in the game. More importantly, they’ve done it with good grace and unfailing modesty. In Cafu’s case there’s usually a smile too, not a usual attribute from a defender. Nicknamed Il Pendolino after the high-speed train that operates between Milan and Rome, he took the same route this summer after appearing in his third World Cup Final – the only man to achieve such a milestone. Not only that, he lifted the golden trophy as stand-in captain.

With one Scudetto under his belt at Roma, the popular Brazilian still feels there’s more to come with his new club even at the age of 33. He’s probably right if Paolo Maldini is anything to go. Cafu’s new Milan clubmate is two years older. While Cafu has won his most important honours at international level, Maldini’s have come with his one and only club. A record 126 caps, 74 as captain, ended with just a World Cup runners-up medal.

But in almost 20 years with the Rossoneri and over 600 games – more than 500 in Serie A – Maldini has collected 19 pieces of silverware including four European Cups and two Inter-Continental Cups with a possible third just around the corner. Now carving out a new career as a polished centre-back after years as a superb attacking full-back, Maldini has even topped the outstanding feats of his father Cesare.

There’s no doubt that this hero of the San Siro would make the Team of the Century let alone my team of the last decade. A further strong contender for both would be Franco Baresi, another Milan legend. He forged the path that Maldini has followed, both at international and club level. Every honour came his way in a 19-year career with the Rossoneri.

Like Maldini, he oozed class. As magazine colleague Mario Risoli once wrote: “This world-class libero had the elegance of Franz Beckenbauer, the tactical awareness of Rudi Krol, the steel of Daniel Passarella and the attacking grace of Gaetano Scirea.” That sums him up perfectly. He was the cornerstone of Arrigo Sacchi’s all-conquering side that carried all before them as we started this magazine. A magnificent leader, a superb organiser, he made defending an art that was to be admired. 

But amazingly both Baresi and Maldini are one Scudetti short of the man I’ve chosen to partner them in defence. Ciro Ferrara has wracked up an amazing seven title wins. Perhaps neither as classy as the two Milan men nor as adventurous as Cafu, he’s still performed amazingly consistently at the top level for two decades. At right-back, centre-half or as an out-and-out man marker, he always does the job. A vital member of Diego Maradona’s inspired Napoli that won two titles in the late 1980s, Ferrara has earned five more with Marcello Lippi’s Juventus. Only bad luck in picking up injuries before major international tournaments restricted his Azzurri caps to 49.

The Italy career of another of my heroes was also cut short by injuries and some baffling managerial selections. Having got Italy to the 1994 World Cup Final almost single-handedly, Roberto Baggio was cut adrift by Arrigo Sacchi. Other fine bosses like Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi also decided his unique individual talents didn’t fit into their team patterns.

Yet for two decades the Divine Ponytail, as he was nicknamed in his heyday, delighted fans up and down the country. No player has so divided Coaches and supporters. But in the first two years of the C4 programming and this magazine there was no one who could light up a match like him. For six seasons he was up amongst Serie A’s top scorers. When injuries and age slowed him down, he turned provider. Like Roberto Mancini – who unluckily just fails to make my list – it’s no coincidence that many average strikers were turned into deadly scorers simply by playing alongside him.

A super hero at Fiorentina, where the fans went on the rampage at his shock departure in 1990, perhaps his most remarkable days were early on at Juventus especially when he linked up with Gianluca Vialli. For an all-too-brief spell the pair ravaged opposing defences.

If Baggio was the delicate artist probing away, Vialli was the lung-busting warrior. I was lucky enough to see him play in the mid-1980s for Sampdoria when he still had hair. But that apart, nothing changed right up to his last appearance for Juve in 1996. He never gave less than 100 per cent. Eleven domestic honours including two Scudetti actually undervalue him. His 59 caps and 20 international goals should have been more.                                     

How Vialli would have loved to have played with one of today’s Juventus superstars. Pavel Nedved displays many of his predecessor’s same never-say-die characteristics. A slow burner at Lazio, the Czech’s true class was only finally universally understood when he was absent last season. With his energy and goal poaching, the Bianconeri looked like world-beaters. Without him, they stumbled at the final hurdle. A Scudetto and Champions’ Cup double looked destined to be theirs until a wretched yellow card ruled Nedved out of their all-Italian Euro Final. Minus his ceaseless running and uncanny eye for goal, Lippi’s side went down in a penalty shoot-out to Milan.

Some expected his spirit would be broken. But the man who has been highly influential in securing three titles in four seasons – one with Lazio and two for Juve – has come back stronger than ever to prove he’s no dud Czech.

So what do we need to complete my Dream Team? With an amazing defence, a superb midfield and strikers like Vialli and Van Basten not a lot you might think. But adding the names of Gianluigi Buffon and Gabriel Batistuta provide yet more fantastic ingredients to this potent cocktail.   

Italy have a longer list than most of brilliant ‘keepers, from 1934 World Cup winner Giampiero Combi to the legendary Dino Zoff. Throw in other great names like Angelo Peruzzi, Walter Zenga and Gianluca Pagliuca and you’ll get the drift. But Buffon is already up with them. And he’s still only 25!

I’ve felt a particular affection for Buffon ever since he made a spectacular Serie A debut in 1995. Channel 4 viewers may remember his late inclusion for the injured Luca Bucci when aged just 17. So late was his inclusion that I had to feed through his brief biographical information from our stats’ man direct into the earpiece of commentator Peter Brackley as the game began. If we knew little about him then, we soon did. The youngster gave a superb display that afternoon to keep a clean sheet against reigning champions Milan.

And he did equally well when making his international debut only two years later. Italy needed to keep their heads in a Russian blizzard when Angelo Peruzzi was injured. Buffon showed his customary ice-cool temperament as the Azzurri got a vital away draw in a World Cup play-off. The likeable ‘keeper has continued to display even more awesome talents since Juventus paid a world record £35m for him just two years ago. Two Scudetti have followed along with 42 caps. Many more of both are certain to follow.

So if he’s certain to keep the goals out at one end for my Dream Team, who’ll score them at the other? Apart from Van Basten, Vialli, Nedved or Baggio you mean? Well it’s not current heroes Christian Vieri, Alex Del Piero or even Francesco Totti. If you wanted goals guaranteed from one particular individual over the past decade then that man was Gabriel Omar Batistuta.

Forget his last couple of seasons with Roma and Inter. The man I remember is the Batigol – hair flying - who rampaged through Italian defences the previous ten. For nine of these he was a virtually the Lone Ranger with a decidedly unpredictable Fiorentina. He was their standard bearer. With 151 goals, it was no wonder the Viola faithful built a statue of him.

Flogged off to Roma as the club plunged into debt, the old warrior showed he had one more fight in him. An amazing 20 goals in 28 appearances took the capital club to their first title in 17 years. At last the Argentine had a medal to show for his labours.

He may not have won as many individual honours as the rest of his Dream Team colleagues, but he lit up the screens and the pages of our magazine over the past decade. And he’s the final cog in a line-up that holds special memories for me and – hopefully - for you. And as you can see further on [click on the gallery at the top], all the Calcio Italia staff have different views.

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