Gianluigi Buffon

The World’s Most Expensive Goalkeeper

In 2001 Juventus shocked the world by paying £32m for a goalkeeper. Tom Scholes tells the story of that transfer.

It isn’t very often in the modern game that you get a transfer that shapes history forever and genuinely takes the world by storm. Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009, Neymar to Paris Saint-German this past year, Zinedine Zidane to Madrid in 2000 to name just three. However, out of those three it is the latter that perhaps changed football for the next decade or so. It wasn’t just Madrid who benefited from the transfer of the French genius, but the €77m that they paid Juventus for him also served the Italian giants well too.

With the Zidane money, Juventus bought Pavel Nedved from Lazio, Lillian Thuram from Parma and also signed a young Gianluigi Buffon from the same club, making him the most expensive goalkeeper in the history of the game - a record that still stands if you use the Euro exchange rate.

Prior to these transfers, Juventus hadn’t won the Scudetto since the 1997-98 season, but it was the Buffon deal that made headlines across the world as the future World Cup winner would establish himself as the best goalkeeper in the world.

Buffon, who was 23 when he made the move to Turin, had only been on the scene since 1996 but his rapid rise to the top was astounding and quite rightly earned him a move to the Old Lady. He was consistently considered one of the best goalkeepers both in Serie A and in the world, but his time at Parma only garnered three trophies, a Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup and the Supercoppa Italiana, and everyone knew he was set to become one of the most decorated players of all time. 

His arrival at the Delle Alpi was the catalyst for a lot of change in the goalkeeping department in calcio at the time. Juve’s then goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who wasn’t entirely pleased to be playing second fiddle, made a shock move to Fulham in the Premier League while Parma replaced Buffon with Inter’s Sebastian Frey and Inter themselves replaced Frey with Fiorentina’s Francesco Toldo who had refused to replace Buffon at Parma… madness!

To say that Buffon’s transfer changed football is an understatement. Only now, in 2018 are we seriously considering someone - the Pole, Wojciech Szczesny - replacing him at Juve. But his transfer to the Bianconeri in 2001 was in itself groundbreaking.

Even at a time when the world transfer record was more often than not being broken by Serie A sides, this transfer is still seen as one of the most important of all time. 

Where would Juventus be if had they not taken that expensive gamble over 15 years ago? Would Buffon have moved to Real Madrid, Manchester United or remained at Parma until they eventually were forced to sell their stars due to financial constraints?

We will never know the answer, yet what we do know is the transfer of Gianluigi Buffon from Parma to Juventus changed the history of both clubs, and the history of football, forever. 

If anyone was going to be the most expensive goalkeeper in history, it just had to be Gigi.