The image of a teary-eyed Gianluigi Buffon as Italy were kicked out of the World Cup play-off qualifiers sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world. Fans couldn’t comprehend it: Italy lost 1-0 on aggregate against Sweden and ultimately had failed to qualify for the World Cup final stages since 1958.
“I am sorry for all of Italian football,” the 39-year-old said after the match. Buffon had earlier announced his retirement from international football and for his beloved country not to qualify must’ve been gut-wrenching.
“It’s a shame my last official game coincided with the failure to qualify for the World Cup,” the legendary goalkeeper added.
And while pundits were to quick to point out all the mistakes Italy had made in the run-up to their untimely demise, one thing was perfectly made apparent: Buffon’s passion, evident through his heartfelt tears that touched the hearts of everybody, from his fans, to his close friends in the game.
“A mountain of a man. A giant of a goalkeeper. A credit to his sport,” famous English ex-footballer Gary Lineker said on his Twitter feed.
“I don’t like seeing you like this. I want to see you as you’ve always been, as what you are for so many – as a legend,” Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas said when he was asked what he thought about Buffon’s emotional post-match reaction.
But how can one man’s sorrow emanate to so many people across the globe? How can one simple goalkeeper evoke such emotions to so many fans of the sport? Indeed, his ability to touch everyone’s hearts speaks volumes to the legend he has truly become – and his story began that fateful year in 1996, in his second full season at Parma.
Parma, as they are today, were more of a mid-table team back in 1996. Sure, they had just finished 6th during the 1995-96 campaign, but not a lot of people expected them to give eventual champions Juventus a blistering run for their money the following season. Parma finished second in the Serie A at the end of the 1996-97 season, and the then 18-year-old Buffon certainly played his part in the monumental achievement. Indeed, he conceded just 17 goals in 27 competitive appearances that season. In every sense of the word, he was a wonderkid.
The next season, his consistent performances further cemented everyone’s belief that Buffon is set to become a legend. At just 19 years of age, he was able to look the Brazilian legend Ronaldo and the eyes and save the iconic striker’s penalty kick. It was from that moment that Buffon earned the moniker, “Superman”.
In his six seasons in his boyhood club, he had managed to win the Italian Cup, the Italian Supercup, and the UEFA Cup. But for Buffon, there was more success to come.
In 2001, he became one of the most expensive goalkeepers of all time when was bought by Juventus for a monumental value of €52-million (£46.78-million). There had been rumblings that time that Barcelona were eager to bring the young keeper to the Camp Nou. How different history would’ve been written had the keeper opted to go to Spain.
In his first season at the club, Buffon conceded just 22 goals in his 34 league matches for the club, keeping 15 clean sheets – the best in the Serie A that campaign. From there, everyone knew Buffon was set for heights only a few could imagine.
And they were right. Since then, he has won eight Serie A titles, three Italian cups, and five Italian Supercups. He has also famously won the FIFA World Cup with Italy. He has won the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a whopping 11 times.
For all these accolades spanning a 22-year career, Buffon doesn’t just deserve the moniker of “Superman” – indeed he deserves the title of “world-class legend”.