After 23 seasons as one of the unmovable pillars of Italian football, Gianluigi Buffon is experimenting with life abroad as he signs for Paris Saint-Germain at the age of 40.
The veteran keeper has remained rooted in his native Italy through almost 900 club games for Parma and then Juventus and a European record 176 caps for Italy.
On the way, Buffon has won a string of trophies. He is also the only goalkeeper to win the UEFA player of the year award.
But it has been an “eventful rollercoaster ride of a journey,” as club president Andrea Agnelli said on the eve of Buffon’s Juventus farewell in May.
It has been a career which has repeatedly touched the heights but also brought reverses.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) July 6, 2018
Last season, Buffon captained Juventus to a seventh straight Serie A title and a fourth consecutive Italian Cup but also suffered two moments of heart-breaking disappointment.
In April, Buffon again missed out on the Champions League, sent off for dissent after Juventus conceded the injury time penalty that eliminated them at Real Madrid.
In November, Buffon was part of the Italy team that missed the World Cup after losing a qualifying play-off against Sweden.
Buffon also missed almost two months of action with a calf injury.
The goalkeeper made his debut with Parma at 17 in 1995. He won the Italian Cup, SuperCup and UEFA Cup at the club before moving to Juventus in 2001, winning nine Serie A titles, four Italian Cups and five SuperCups.
Buffon made his Italy debut at 19 in 1997. In 2006, he conceded only two goals in seven matches – a record he shares with Spain’s Iker Casillas and France’s Fabien Barthez – as Italy won the World Cup.
– Return to Paradise –
His place in Germany had been in doubt as Juventus were embroiled in scandal. Buffon was cleared, but the club were relegated. Some stars left, but Buffon stayed loyal.
“When we descended into Hell in 2006, he stayed with us and played his part in our return to Paradise,” Agnelli said. “We will be forever grateful for his loyalty.”
That only increased the adoration of Juventus, fans but before his final game, the charismatic Buffon tried to downplay his farewell.
“I want to live this day normally. I ask nothing except what I have already had, esteem, affection and respect. The rest I do not need it. As a child, I did not like birthdays and be in the centre of attention,” Buffon said.
Buffon’s final competitive game for Italy was less happy as the Azzurri drew 0-0 at home against Sweden to lose their World Cup qualifying playoff 1-0 on aggregate.
“I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football,” an inconsolable Buffon told Italian broadcaster Rai after the final whistle.
“We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that, not because time passes.”
Buffon’s cool slipped in the Champions League when he was sent off for barging referee Michael Oliver who had awarded the late penalty that eliminated Juventus.
Buffon later said the 33-year-old Oliver had a “bag of rubbish for a heart”.
His anger was perhaps related to his long frustration in a competition he has never won.
– Under the snow –
Buffon first reached the final in 2003 when Juventus played a goal-less draw with AC Milan and then lost the shootout, even though Buffon saved spot kicks from Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze.
He made two more appearances in the final: a 3-1 loss to Barcelona in 2015 and a 4-1 thrashing by Real Madrid in 2017.
Buffon’s international career began in a World Cup playoff.
Under the snow of Moscow in 1997, Gianluca Pagliuca was injured and coach Cesare Maldini had no choice but to turn to the young Buffon.
“Do you feel like coming on?” he asked. Buffon played, he was good and became a fixture, first as a substitute, then number one goalkeeper and finally captain.
Buffon, whose mother was a discus thrower and father a weightlifter, became a goalkeeper only at 12 years old, having started off as an attacking midfielder.
His charisma, his experience and his measured way of expressing himself have made him a senior figure in Italian football.
“I was lucky to play my entire career with him, at Juventus and the national side,” centre back Giorgio Chiellini, who played with Buffon for 14 seasons.
“There’s no doubt that sometimes I don’t even realise what it means to be in front of such a strong goalkeeper. Sometimes it seems simple but it’s only because it’s him.”