Football Italia's archives include this early insight into Gianluigi Buffon's psyche, just as he was making a name for himself at Parma.
November 1999 – At the tail end of a Cup treble-winning year with Parma, a 21-year-old Gigi Buffon met with Football Italia magazine and offered a glimpse into the mindset of a young Superman just on the cusp of realising his powers.
The following article was first published in the November 1999 issue of Football Italia magazine.
Despite Parma’s poor start to the season one consistent factor has been goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Dominique Antognoni reports on Italy’s No 1
During a hot summer’s night Parma goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had a dream about playing in the Champions’ League final against Barcelona. Two months later, at the end of the 2-1 defeat to Lazio during Week 34, the ‘keeper was on the bench in tears. His dream of playing in the Champions’ League final had gone.
It was strange to see him cry because Buffon is famous for smiling. At the end of this season’s 5-1 hammering by Inter he came out of the changing rooms laughing: “I get angry during the ninety minutes of the match, but there’s more to life than football.” After the defeat against Lazio it was different. The dream to win something important had faded away.
Gigi is only 21, yet has already played for four seasons as a first-teamer and is one of the most interesting players in Italian football - not only for his bravery in the goal, but for his genuine behaviour. He’s one of the few that expresses his thoughts freely and never hides himself behind tactful phrases. He never draws back from responsibility and behaves like a man and not like a boy of his age.
Everybody likes him because he is a real man who considers himself a ‘normal’ person. Buffon never gets a swollen head even though Italy Coach Dino Zoff considers him the Azzurri’s No 1. “My trainer told me that at the moment I am the first choice goalkeeper, but that won’t last forever. The Buffon era doesn’t exist. If I save well I will be the first choice player, if I don’t I won’t,” remarks Buffon.
The young ‘keeper doesn’t go crazy for society life: “I love to stay at home read my fan mail and play on my Playstation.” And he still has some solid values: “My idol remains my father, work, sweat, labour and fun.” He respects his work very much: “I only go to the disco on Sundays after the match. It’s a sort of respect to my teammates and to the club that pays me to train during the week and, of course, my fans.”
Buffon, capped 11 times by Italy so far, talks with great ease of his own qualities: “I am a good boy and never hold grudges, I am honest and help others.” And of his qualities as a goalkeeper: “I am fearless and definitely not afraid of colliding with oncoming attackers. I am calm, self-confident and enjoy the responsibility. However, sometimes self-confidence becomes a problem. If you are too convinced of your own skill you make silly mistakes.”
But about his fears: “I am afraid of stupid accidents, you can fall on your leg wrong and throw away your career.” He loves dressing himself elegantly: “I have a personal tailor in Rome. I love Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. My favourite colour is turquoise green.” He loves fast cars, he drives a Porsche, and music: “I go crazy for karaoke.” He likes spending time with friends: “I don’t like being lonely.”
When Buffon was 12 he went away to become the Parma goalkeeper. Everybody thought he would have gone to Milan, but instead he chose the team from the Tardini Stadium because it was nearer to his native Carrara. “I used to come back home after the training and I missed not living with my parents. It seems foolish, but I used to return home with my training bag full of dirty stuff and watch TV alone - I was only 12 it was hard.”
Ever since he has been a wonder. At 14 his Coach told him he would make his first Serie A appearance when he was 20. Buffon questioned what would he do until then. He found something, playing in the Azzurri youth team. During the European Under-16 tournament Buffon saved five penalties and even scored one himself. And he still scores, his last goal was a penalty against Udinese during a pre-season friendly. He has a good kick and Gigi Riva once told him: “If I was your trainer I would make you take the free-kicks.”
Gigi’s decision to be a goalkeeper was based on the fact that when he played outfield he got too tired. “As a midfielder I wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t have become a wonder but would have done my best.” He made the right choice becoming a goalkeeper and would like to remain in Parma forever:
“Parma brought me through the ranks and it is thanks to them that I reached the national team. I feel at home here so there is no reason to leave.” Parma fans will be happy to hear that the country’s No 1 goalkeeper wants to stay with them. After all they well need him after a disastrous start to their Serie A campaign.