Buffon celebrates 20 years in Serie A

Gianluigi Buffon celebrated 20 years of playing in Serie A on Thursday as the Juventus and Italy goalkeeping great was hailed by his fellow professionals.

Buffon celebrates 20 years in Serie A
Gianluigi Buffon celebrated 20 years of playing in Serie A on Thursday. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Buffon, whose performances at the 2006 World Cup helped Italy to their fourth triumph in the competition, made his Serie A debut on November 19, 1995.

From keeping a clean sheet for Parma against what was then a fearsome AC Milan side, Buffon has gone on to make 565 appearances in Italy's top flight and been capped 154 times by his country.

Bayern Munich and Germany shot-stopper Manuel Neuer is among Buffon's many admirers.

“Gigi is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and has always been someone I looked up to. It's fantastic he's still playing at his age,” Neuer told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I like him because he's a nice guy who has lots of charisma. Even when I was younger, when we played against each other he always came to talk to me before or after the game.”

Former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, now at Arsenal, said Buffon's influence extended well beyond his shot-stopping abilities.

“Buffon's personality sets him aside. His presence and leadership has a huge influence on the rest of the team and has helped his team to victory hundreds of times.”

Buffon joined Parma's youth set-up as a 13-year-old, but had it not been for Cameroon's performances at the 1990 World Cup he might have remained a midfielder.

“When I was young I liked to be in the thick of the action, and to score goals,” he explained.

At Parma, Buffon played in several positions before Thomas N'Kono's performances for Cameroon in 1990 inspired Buffon to grab his first pair of goalkeeping gloves.

Five years later, Buffon's Serie A debut saw him stop shots from Ballon d'Or winners Roberto Baggio and George Weah, and Marco Simone as Parma held that season's eventual champions to a scoreless draw.

Former Italy goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani said Buffon's stop from a Weah cross into the area, which the 'keeper intercepted with a diving header, left an indelible mark.

“What astonished me was his debut. Not just because he was only 17 years old, but for the header he produced to stop Weah,” said Marchegiani.

During a six-year spell at Parma, Buffon made 169 appearances for the 1995 Uefa Cup winners, helping the 'Duchy Men' punch well above their weight in Italy and Europe.

In 1999 a Parma team boasting Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Hernan Crespo were crowned Italian Cup winners, won their second UEFA Cup and beat AC Milan 2-1 at the San Siro to claim their first and only Italian Super Cup.

World-record fee

In the summer of 2001, Buffon rejected the possibility of joining Roma or Barcelona to join Juventus for a world-record transfer fee for a goalkeeper of 100 billion lire (€51,645,690).

Buffon's ambition to have the league champions' 'scudetto' (shield) embroidered on his club shirt was achieved eight times in 14 seasons with the Turin giants, although two titles from the 2005 and 2006 campaigns were stripped from Juve after their role in the 'Calciopoli' match-fixing scandal that saw them relegated.

Despite the scandal, that same summer Buffon conceded a World Cup record two goals in seven matches and kept five clean sheets as the Azzurri toppled France on penalties in the final to become world champions for the fourth time.

Although Juventus began the following season in Serie B, Buffon remained with the club, a show of loyalty that has given him legendary status among fans.

All that's left to achieve now is winning the Champions League – perhaps a tall order following defeat to Barcelona in last season's final.

Italy legend Dino Zoff, who like Buffon held the Italy captaincy, is the oldest ever winner of a World Cup having played in goal for the Azzurri during their triumphant 1982 campaign at the age of 40 years, four months and 13 days.

He said: “Both of us have won a World Cup but, after losing last season's final to Barcelona I hope he will get another chance to win the Champions League.

“It will be interesting to see if he can achieve what I did at 40 years old. I wish him all the best.”

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Five reasons why Juventus have won their eighth straight Serie A title

Italian giants Juventus claimed an eighth consecutive Serie A title on Saturday after a 2-1 win at home against Fiorentina.Here are five factors that helped the Turin giants lift a 35th Scudetto with five matches to spare, equalling the record for the earliest any team has won Serie A:

Five reasons why Juventus have won their eighth straight Serie A title
Photos: AFP

Ronaldo effect

Cristiano Ronaldo was signed from Real Madrid for 100 million euros ($112 million) before the start of the season, in a bid to end the Turin giants' 23-year wait for the Champions League trophy.

The 34-year-old left Real as their all-time top scorer, a record he also holds in the Champions League where he is the only player to have won five titles.

Despite their European exit to Ajax, the Portuguese superstar was a key player throughout the campaign with 19 league goals.

Both Juventus' Serie A defeats came in his absence — 2-0 to Genoa on March 17 and 2-1 to SPAL on April 13 — the latter frustrating their bid to wrap up the title with a record six games to spare.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who was defended by Juve last year after being accused of rape, was slow off the mark, having to wait until their fourth game against Sassuolo before scoring a double in a 2-1 win.

“Cristiano is the future of Juventus, he has had an extraordinary season,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri after the Champions League loss.

Rising star Kean

Teenage sensation Moise Kean burst through during Ronaldo's absence through injury, scoring six goals in the last seven matches for Juventus, having played just nine this season.

The 19-year-old, who provides an alternative to Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala up front, admitted: “I learn from Cristiano Ronaldo in training, I steal his secrets.”

Born in Italy to Ivorian parents, his first league appearance this season was just four minutes away against Fiorentina on December 1, with his first goals a double in a 4-1 win over Udinese on March 3.

Controversy overshadowed his only full match for the champions when he was subjected to racist abuse against Cagliari on April 2.

The youngster hit back by scoring in Sardinia and again in the following game against SPAL.

Bonucci back

Leonardo Bonucci returned to Turin after an unhappy season at AC Milan to recreate the so-called 'BBC' defensive partnership alongside veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.

The absence of the trio through injury was felt when Juventus conceded six goals in two games including a 3-3 draw with Parma on February 2 — days after being eliminated from the Coppa Italia.

“Mr Bonucci and Mr Chiellini could teach lessons at Harvard University about how to be a central defender,” said Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho.

Juventus have conceded only 23 goals in 33 games, the best record in the division.

Safe hands

Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has proven to be a worthy successor to Juventus and Italy icon Gianluigi Buffon, who left for Paris Saint-Germain.

The ex-Arsenal player arrived in Turin in 2017 after falling down the pecking order at the Premier league club.

The 28-year-old got off to a stuttering start in the season opener, conceding two goals in a 3-2 win at Chievo, but has conceded only 15 goals in the 24 times he has played so far this season.

New arrival Mattia Perin, who joined from Genoa last summer, has proved less effective with eight conceded in nine games, and was between the posts for both their league defeats.

Winning ugly

Massimiliano Allegri doesn't mind winning ugly as he claimed his fifth league title in as many years with Juventus, and sixth in Serie A after leading AC Milan to their last title in 2011.

Allegri — who has now won 11 trophies with Juventus — has strenuously defended his team's often-criticised style of play, despite Juve leading the way in the Italian top flight with 67 goals scored.

“Beautiful football doesn't pay off, at the end of the day you've got to just kick it away from your goal,” the 51-year-old fumed after the draw with Parma.

“They need to realise there is no shame in hoofing the ball into the stands if needs be.”