Shortly after breaking another Serie A goalkeeping record Gianluigi Buffon wrote an open letter to the ‘goal’ he has safeguarded for almost twenty years. Fortunately, the multilingual James Horncastle was on hand to translate the letter, and in doing so, he revealed to myself and many other non-Italian speakers Buffon’s virtuosity.
Here’s Buffon’s letter in full:
Buffon, at first, opted to attack the goal rather than protect it. However, at the age of twelve, Gianluigi Buffon the goalkeeper was born and what it meant to be a number one would never be the same again.
As he shot to prominence with an exciting young Parma team, Buffon was a raw talent, a young player performing a role usually reserved for old heads. His short-sleeved shirt and bandanna gave him the look of a tennis pro, whilst his endless energy around the box elevated the art of goalkeeping into an actual art form.
It was his potential to be special that convinced Juventus to spend €35 million (100 billion lire) in 2001, which is still a record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. Now, at the age of 38 and after 15 years of loyal service it seems that The Old Lady bagged herself a bargain. Buffon is now a Juventus legend, famous for having the grace and guile of a vaulting puma, similar to the one trademarked on his boots and gloves.
For all his natural talent Juventus must still be accredited for the player and person he is today. The Italian is a philosopher trapped inside an athlete’s body. He is so much more than a media-trained bigmouth; his words carry a certain weight or gravitas and unlike Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Andrea Pirlo, Buffon will always praise his teammates before himself.
Buffon has admitted to suffering from depression in the past and his open letter hints at the perfectionist within him. Although, far from a tortured soul, Buffon’s character is oddly multifaceted for a footballer. Buffon, or Gigi as he is often known, has taken a simple game and given it meaning, from the very first moment he stepped onto a football pitch, Buffon has considered the implications of every shot, pass or dribble towards his goal.
In his Parma days, Buffon’s decision to wear the number 88 shirt, rather than the traditional number 1 shirt for a goalkeeper caused enormous controversy in the Italian media. The press suggested that the number had Neo-Nazi connotations. However, Buffon clarified that the number was intended to signify his wish to have four balls instead of two during his rehabilitation from injury prior to Euro 2000, thus implying that he was “reborn” before the tournament. It should also be made clear that Buffon fractured his hand; his obsession with balls was solely symbolic. It is fair to see that football was not yet ready for his self-effacing poetry. He has since always worn the number one shirt, presumably after carefully researching its meaning.
Buffon’s record of twelve consecutive clean sheets prompted me to write this article, although this record can be rendered meaningless when filed into his logbook of honours and achievements. He is the most capped player of a country that has produced the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Dino Zoff. He has represented Italy at five World Cups and has won the tournament himself on one very special occasion.
In 2006 Buffon was the runner up in the Ballon d’Or, the highest individual award that can be bestowed upon a footballer. The winner that year was his former Juventus and Italy teammate Fabio Cannavaro, however unlike Cannavaro that year, Buffon was playing in Serie B. After the Calciopoli scandal, Juventus were relegated to the Italian second tier under allegations of match-fixing. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lillian Thuram and Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro all left Juve to join other elite clubs around Europe. Buffon, however, stayed loyal to Juventus, and now, ten years on, he has reaped the rewards. Juventus are currently challenging for their fifth consecutive Serie A title.
This article barely scratches the surface of Buffon’s importance to Juventus. I’ve only alluded on a couple of occasions to the psychological depth of the man and his lists of accolades have been seriously watered-down to make room for my own wearisome input. Although, despite this, I hope the reader can appreciate my own appreciation for a player whom I have no personal links to whatsoever. This is the sign of a true footballing artist, a player who can capture the imagination of a neutral, although unlike Zinedine Zidane, Pele and Johan Cruyff, Gianluigi Buffon is a goalkeeper who rarely has the ball at his feet. The Italian was the first matinee idol between the sticks; he inspired a new generation of keepers who opted to play in goal not because they had to but because they wanted to. They say you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper, and plenty are, however, Buffon’s open letter proves that being a goalkeeper can mean so much more. Perhaps Buffon is mad, but not because he hurls his body around like a brainless brute, but because he tortures himself every time he turns to face his goal after conceding to the opposition, this is why Gigi is a goalkeeping perfectionist.
Photo credits: The Green Soccer Journal