Having been one of the best shot-stoppers in the world for the past 20 years, just what is it that makes Buffon so good? Greg Murray investigates.
For young football fans, Gianluigi Buffon has been amongst the best goalkeepers in the world since they started watching the game. However, barring a Juventus Champions League win, it appears that the maestro will finally be hanging up his boots at the end of the season. Despite the retirement of Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo in 2017, Gigi’s departure is likely to hit calcio the hardest. What is it that made Italy’s undisputed Number One so good?
Of course, the obvious reason that Buffon is so highly regarded is his raw goalkeeping ability. Gigi has won the record number of Golden Gloves in Serie A, having accrued the most clean sheets in eight seasons, the first as far back as 1996-97. As if this wasn’t enough, the Juventus ‘keeper also holds the record for the most consecutive clean sheets, going 10 games without conceding, and he also holds the most Goalkeeper of the Season awards.
However, as is often repeated, football is a team-game, and individual awards rely heavily on the whole team, rather than a single player. Buffon’s clean sheets came at a time in which, not only were Juventus the dominant side in Serie A, but also when their superiority was particularly based on a strong defensive foundation. Would Buffon had done so well had he played for a different side, and if he had not had the BBC guarding the goal in front of him?
A comparison of the number of shots saved to the number conceded, makes the quality of a goalkeeper’s teammates, in theory, irrelevant. Unsurprisingly to Juventus fans, Buffon’s shot percentage is a yet another measure by which the goalkeeper has dominated his field, supporting his plethora of individual awards.
However, statistics never tell the whole story - could we fairly judge Francesco Totti on his goal tally? As astounding as Buffon’s ability is, it is his personality that elevates the Italian above the levels of other world-class goalkeepers.
The Juventus and Italy captain was described as a ‘born leader’ by Zinedine Zidane, and his on-pitch charisma has as much of an impact on his team as his saves. Anyone who watched Italy’s World Cup qualifying draw to Sweden would have seen the passion, drive and concentration of the man, despite his being virtually powerless to affect the game.
In addition, Buffon’s off-pitch demeanour has won him the hearts of football fans around the globe. After all, how many Juventus legends are universally (well, almost) adored across Italy? Painfully referring back to Italy’s draw against Sweden, it was Gigi who faced the cameras, in tears, to apologise to the fans, taking responsibility for their defeat.
It is extremely rare to see a footballer as candid and honest in an interview as the Juventus captain. Of course, much of this comes with experience, but how many professionals would describe themselves as a “masochist…and a bit perverse”? It is this relationship with both the fans and the media that has ensured that Buffon remains a legend both on and off the pitch.
Overall, there is one factor that elevates Buffon above the level of his contemporaries: his longevity. Gigi has been amongst the very best in the world for almost two generations of outfield footballers. His iconic rival Iker Casillas, who broke on to the scene shortly after the Italian, has long since faded, whilst Manuel Neuer, has nearly a decade yet to play to match Buffon’s legacy.
Over the past decade, a number of young, Italian goalkeepers have been touted as 'the next Buffon', from Salvatore Sirigu to Mattia Perin and Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, it is telling that not one of these have managed to take his place between the sticks for La Nazionale. Having overseen a number of changings of the guard, it appears it is going to take Buffon’s own retirement for a new Italian goalkeeper to emerge from his shadow.
Regardless of what happens this season, Gianluigi Buffon will retire with eight Serie A titles, four Coppa Italias and a World Cup winners medal to his name. Over the past two decades the ‘keeper has displayed the talent, temperament and commitment to ensure that he has remained one of the very best to have played the game.