Gianluigi Buffon announced his retirement at the age of 45.
The multi-champion, with his undeniable leadership and long-lasting career, concludes his journey in football as one of the greatest goalkeepers in history.
Early career start at Parma
Buffon emerged onto the football scene at the tender age of 17, making his debut for Parma in 1995. It was a goalless draw against Milan in Serie A, where he was named the standout player of the match. After producing miracles and securing a draw against the three-time Italian champions, the Rossoneri, at the time.
Coach Nevio Scala recalled Buffon’s debut in an interview with Goal.com: “Buffon had an extraordinary match, but he didn’t celebrate. Even after the game, he thanked the coach and the club for the trust they had in him. That was his strength. It was as if he had done the most normal thing in the world. Maybe as if he hadn’t realized what he had done. He had great technical qualities, but above all, an incredible inner strength.”
By the 96-97 season, Parma had become the Italian runner-up, and Buffon was already the undisputed starter for the team. In the 98-99 season, he clinched the UEFA Cup, the Italian Cup, and the Italian Super Cup. He was also named the best goalkeeper in Serie A for the first time in 1999, earning a nomination for the Ballon d’Or.
His standout performances for Parma caught the attention of top European clubs. Despite interest from Barcelona, it was Juventus that secured his signature. In July 2001, the Turin-based club splashed out around 52 million euros to acquire the player, making it the most expensive transfer for a goalkeeper at that time.
Buffon’s legacy at Juventus
Upon his arrival at Juventus in 2001, he was immediately placed in the starting lineup and secured back-to-back Italian Championships in 2001-02 and 2002-03. In his second season, in addition to the Scudetto, he aided the Old Lady to a runner-up position in the Champions League, losing to Milan. The goalkeeper managed to hold the draw, but was ultimately defeated by Dida in the penalty shootout, despite making two saves. To cap off this fantastic season, he was named the world’s best goalkeeper by UEFA.
In the following seasons, Italy’s most popular club continued to be unstoppable and clinched the Scudetto in 2004-05 and 2005-06. However, these titles were later revoked as the club was relegated for the first and only time to Serie B due to Calciopoli, the Italian football scandal which, following investigations from 2004 to 2006, revealed schemes involving referee pressure, threats, and gifts to influence match outcomes.
With this stain on the club’s history, many players from that Juventus squad suffered from a mass exodus. Despite being home to key players in the 2006 World Cup, the team lost figures like Fabio Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Vieira, Thuram, Emerson, and Ibrahimovic, among other key players. Buffon was one of the few stars who chose to stay, alongside Del Piero and Nedved. Even Trezeguet, who had expressed interest in leaving, remained with the team.
From that point on, Juventus fans began to idolize him not just for his consistent miracles on the field, but also for his unwavering loyalty to the club. Even in the face of potential tarnish during the scandal, his respect for the institution above all else defined his idolization.
In a 2015 interview, the goalkeeper reminisced about his decision to stay with the club: “I followed Juve to Serie B because I was thinking of you [the fans]. I was thinking of you because I firmly believe that in certain moments, you need to replace words with actions. And, considering that in football and in all areas there are people who love to preach and then behave badly, I decided not to talk much and I saw it as a great opportunity to send a message to those who wanted to receive it.”
After winning Serie B, the peak of uncertainty for Buffon came after Juventus’ return to Serie A. The veteran still received the award for the league’s best goalkeeper in 2007/08, but his prime seemed to be fading. He was no longer as spectacular as before; his explosive saves were diminishing during a period where the Old Lady played a supporting role in the national league, and injuries became more frequent. However, it wouldn’t be long before he proved the skeptics wrong.
Buffon’s career can be divided into two main phases: before and after 2011. The goalkeeper had already established himself as one of the best in history during his youth, highlighted by the 2006 World Cup title. The most victorious and resolute version of the number 1 jersey emerged in the last decade, marked by Juventus’ dominance in Serie A like never before in the history of the league.
The idol secured 7 consecutive Italian Championships and was elected the best Serie A goalkeeper in five of them. The first title (2011-12) since the return to the top division marked the beginning of a new era in Italian football.
Buffon led a defense that conceded only 20 goals in an undefeated campaign and was also elevated to captaincy following Alessandro Del Piero’s departure. From then on, the belief that the goalkeeper was back to his peak persisted as long as he remained in Turin. He even broke the Italian football record for most minutes without conceding a goal in 2016, with 974 minutes.
The veteran narrowly missed out on the dream of winning the Champions League on two more occasions. In 2014-15, he lost to Barcelona, while in 2016-17, the defeat came in a heavy loss to Real Madrid.
In 2018, Buffon transferred to Paris Saint-Germain, where he didn’t make a significant impact, as he fell short of expectations despite winning Ligue 1. He also struggled in the continental competition.
After a year, the idol returned to Juventus, now in a backup role. The goalkeeper accepted a supporting role at the club where he was a legend. He was there to assist his former teammates in new triumphs and to aid the transition in goal with the presence of Szczesny. Gigi even declined the number 1 jersey and didn’t create any fuss about being on the bench. He seemed more than content to experience the atmosphere of the Old Lady and continue doing what he loved.
In 2021, his cycle at Juventus came to an end, solidifying his position as one of the greatest idols in the club’s history, the player with the most Serie A titles (10), and the second player with the most appearances for the team.
In his farewell, he stated: “I would like to sum up this unusual day for me, filled with emotions, but which I approach with calm, happiness, and a feeling of fulfillment. It is the conclusion of a wonderful journey, which I had the privilege to share with people who really cared about me. I felt this, day after day, and because of this love, I fought, trying to give my best. Saturday will be my last game for Juventus. I believe this is the best way to end this marvelous adventure.”
At 43 years old, Buffon returned to Parma, his former club, after two decades.
The good Son returns home
His return to Parma is highly symbolic, not only for the idolatry it represents but also for the way he insisted on showing his love for the club. He had the desire to relive all of that once again, even if Serie B presented itself as a challenge far from glamour. He also wanted his children to see him playing for Parma, not just hear his stories.
Upon his arrival, Parma had just been relegated to Serie B, so Gigi Buffon’s mission was to bring Parma back to Serie A. In the first season, the team finished only in 12th place. However, the following year, Parma secured fourth place in Serie B and reached the promotion playoffs. In the semifinals, in his last career match, they lost the first leg 3-2 to Cagliari and drew 0-0 at home.
Buffon expressed his regret over the result but emphasized the support from his beloved team’s fans: “There are defeats that leave only a feeling of bewilderment and deep solitude. And there are defeats that, on the contrary, make us feel surrounded by thousands of arms, where tears actually represent various seeds.”
The goalkeeper reaffirmed his passion for the Parma fans: “There is something that strangely binds you beyond the sporting result, making you resemble all those gazes you meet, making you feel like you belong to what belongs to them. An awareness that has grown over time, like an umbilical cord that connects everyone, made of passion, respect, gratitude, hearts, and hands that truly know how to support each other.”
In his two stints with Parma, the goalkeeper played in 265 matches and earned the respect and hearts of the fans who accompanied him during the most victorious phase in the club’s history, in the 1990s.
Photo: Serie A
Record holder and world champion for Italy
Buffon’s history with the Azzurra began in the youth ranks, including runner-up finishes in the Under-16 and Under-19 European Championships in 1996. He clinched the Under-21 European Championship in 1996 and also participated in the Olympic Games. His exceptional performance at Parma earned him a debut for the senior national team in October 1997. He was immediately impactful in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, delivering a remarkable display in the play-off against Russia, even on a snow-damaged pitch.
In his first World Cup in 1998, he played as a backup and was already counted among the world’s top goalkeepers at just 20 years old. In Euro 2000, Gigi was set to be the starting goalkeeper, but he suffered a hand fracture on the eve of the tournament and was cut from the squad that secured second place for the Azzurra.
By the 2002 World Cup, Buffon, though young, had become one of the team’s key leaders. Italy was eliminated in the Round of 16 by South Korea in a match surrounded by refereeing controversies. Within the opening minutes, a penalty was awarded, which Ahn Jung-Hwan took, but Buffon produced a spectacular save.
Italy lost the match 2-1, exiting via a golden goal in extra time. However, the 2006 World Cup would be a different story for the Italian people.
Buffon’s standing was under scrutiny just before the World Cup, investigated for potential involvement in the Calciopoli scandal. While he admitted to placing bets on other leagues, he was cleared of personal allegations of match-fixing. Throughout the tournament, he went 453 minutes without conceding a goal, from the group stage to the final, making a total of 40 saves. He only let in two goals over the seven matches.
During that World Cup, Buffon received the Man of the Match award against Australia and performed a miraculous save against Lukas Podolski in the epic semifinal against Germany. His definitive moment of glory, however, came in the final during extra time, when he thwarted Zinédine Zidane’s header that could have decided the match.
At the conclusion of the World Cup, he was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament by FIFA’s Technical Study Group. Alongside Cannavaro, he was the only Italian to play every minute of the victorious campaign.
In the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, early exits prevented the goalkeeper from crafting an even more illustrious history in the tournament he appeared in five times.
In the European Championship, he stood among the best in his position in 2008 before leading the Azzurra to the final in 2012, where they fell to Spain, led by Iker Casillas.
Buffon’s final chapter with the national team was marked by the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. A goalless draw against Sweden in Milan meant Italy missed out on the tournament, and the icon couldn’t hold back tears as he announced his departure from the team following the qualifying disappointment.
“It’s tough to end like this. We have pride, strength. We will rise as we always do. I send a hug to everyone, especially those who shared this time with me. I don’t feel sorry for myself, but for all of Italian football. We’ve failed,” Buffon stated.
The goalkeeper holds the record for the most appearances in Italy’s history, with 176 caps. It was a 20-year journey in the national team, a story that began in 1997 when then-coach Cesare Maldini called up the promising goalkeeper from Parma for the first time. His debut came on October 29 of that year, in a 1-1 draw against Russia in the qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup.
Another milestone that effectively showcases Gigi’s quality is being one of the few goalkeepers, along with Roy Clemence, to go over 500 matches without conceding a goal, simply Gianluigi Buffon, the perfect representation of the supreme goalkeeper.
Written by Henry Miller.