Goalkeepers are a different breed of footballer. They train and prepare differently, and tend to have either a largely extravagant personality or curiously introverted one.
It takes a certain type of character to occupy the loneliness of two white posts and a crossbar, so much so, that those who do are indebted for life into the goalkeepers’ union – an inclusive yet exclusive club for shot-stoppers.
Its ethos, if you like, boils down to the fact, that as a keeper, you and live and die by the sword.
You know for every good moment, flying save or penalty shootout success where you’re the hero, a moment of disaster, a mind lapse of kamikaze proportions, is just around the corner when you wish you could sink into the pitch. The men between the sticks are always in it together.
That union, for the worse, will miss Gianluigi Buffon‘s regular presence. The legendary Italian will play his final Juventus match on Saturday and lift his ninth Scudetto crown for the Old Lady after their clash against Verona at the Allianz Stadium.
The 40-year-old, who recently changed his mind about retiring at the end of the season, is now apparently mulling over several interesting options to extend one of the game’s great careers, which has spanned over two decades.
The good news is that the 2006 World Cup winner will not completely fade away into the sunset but his final Juve game after 17 years feels like the end of a very special era.
You didn’t have to be a fan of the Bianconeri to have felt sadness when Buffon was sent-off for an out-of-character tirade against Michael Oliver during the recent Champions League quarter-final exit to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
Hopes of finally landing a European Cup medal were extinguished that night following a moment that mirrored that of Zinedine Zidane‘s famous headbutt, which ironically came during that match in Berlin all those years ago that defined the biggest trophy success of Buffon’s career.
Like Zidane, though, Buffon is and has always been about so much more than silverware. Personality, sportsmanship and a lasting legacy of greatness are more important attributes.
Few can match an icon of Buffon’s stature. Ivan Rakitic said once, that if a child had to draw a picture of a goalkeeper – they would scribble the Italian in caricature form. Simply put, that summed up the measure of the man.
If this is a goodbye at the top level, he will be missed by all generations. Regardless, his legacy and status among the pantheon of goalkeeping greats – something that probably doesn’t matter too much to a man without an ego – has been set and stone for years.
Many would argue he deserved the 2006 Ballon d’Or over Italian team-mate Fabio Cannavaro – and they had a point given Buffon shared a great amount of the defensive load with the centre-back. It wasn’t to be.
Still, he is on a par with the legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin – the only keeper to have won that award in history, and that came in 1963.
While the likes of compatriot Dino Zoff, Yashin, Gordon Banks and more recently Peter Schmeichel, Edwin van der Sar and Iker Casillas among the other great goalkeeping names – Buffon’s longevity (he won 176 Italy caps) does place him near the top.
The ‘Maradona of Goalkeepers’ – a term Cannarvaro used to describe Buffon – and he was nailed on with that remark. It is almost unheard of for a goalkeeper or defender to rival men like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the individual stakes, but he has just done that for many years.
Back in March 2016, after breaking the record for the longest amount of time without conceding a goal in Serie A history – 974 minutes – Buffon penned an emotional poem to ‘his goal’ about his love for the game and then wrote individual letters to his team-mates.
One verse read: ‘More than 25 years ago I made my vow: I swore to protect you. Look after you. A shield against all your enemies. I’ve always thought about your welfare, putting it first even ahead of my own.’
For Buffon, it was never about money but doing what he loved, team success and most importantly loyalty. Let’s not forget, he undeservingly went down with the ship as Juventus were relegated to Serie B due to the match-fixing scandal in 2006.
What next? The fact he has not deteriorated as a player, makes it difficult for Buffon to walk away completely. He will get the perfect send-off this weekend and you wouldn’t think he would take up any old challenge just for the sake of it.
In a sense it doesn’t even matter because Buffon will continue to have a great and positive impact on the game we all love for years to come whatever he goes on to do. The sad thing is, he was the last in a dying breed of footballing statesman that we won’t see again.
If only they made them like him now.
The 40-year-old, who has been capped 176 times by Italy, captained Juve to a seventh successive Serie A title and to Coppa Italia glory this season, and was expected to announce his retirement this week.
Former Parma keeper Buffon has confirmed he will make his 640th and last Serie A appearance when the champions host Hellas Verona on Saturday but – at a press conference held on Thursday morning – he confessed that recent offers for him to play on elsewhere have piqued his interest.
Speaking to juventus.com, he said: “Saturday will be my last match with Juventus and I do believe it will be the most beautiful thing to end my adventure this way.
“What will I do next? For now I only know that I will play a game on Saturday. Until a few days ago it was certain that I would stop playing. Interesting proposals have now arrived.
“Playing on in Italy? No, don’t talk about that.”
Gianluigi Buffon is to leave Juventus at the end of the season after 17 years at the club. Legend! 👏 pic.twitter.com/BWIe0yY8fv— Sport360° (@Sport360) May 17, 2018
Sitting alongside him, club president Andrea Agnelli said: “Buffon has received many proposals, and he knows that he has my full support whatever choice he makes. I can only say thank you to him.”
At the age of 23 Buffon joined Juve from Parma in July 2001. He has won nine Serie A titles, and a further two were stripped from the club due to the ‘Calciopoli’ scandal.
He was a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 and led the public soul-searching when the Azzurri failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament in Russia.
Buffon continued: “If I feel as strong as I do at the age of 40, that is all thanks to Juventus and the mentality here.
“My own philosophy is built around that of the club and I shall continue to live my life in that way, as that’s the only way I know to achieve results.
“I’m proud to have played to the best of my ability right up until now, with performances which befit both myself and this club.
“I make this decision in a calm and happy state of mind, which is not to be taken for granted for a sportsperson.”
Agnelli said that Wojciech Szczesny, the former Arsenal keeper, will become Juve’s new number one.
The 50-year-old led Juve to a fourth-successive Serie A and Coppa Italia double this season and has been heavily linked with replacing Wenger at Emirates Stadium.
Allegri’s name emerged as one of the frontrunners following Arsenal’s announcement last month that Wenger would step down after 22 years in charge.
After delivering a seventh straight title for Juventus, Allegri said over the weekend: “If they don’t fire me, then I think I’m staying at Juventus next year, too.”
The club also seem keen to keep the former AC Milan boss in place, with Juventus general manager Giuseppe Marotta insisting there is a “willingness” for Allegri to stay put.
“On our side there is great optimism,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Beyond just the formal aspects, the relationship between us has worked as well as possible and I think on both sides there is certainly a willingness to continue together.
“We are going to have a meeting with him in the next few days. The manager demonstrated that he is great and I think our relationship can go on.”
With Allegri seemingly dropping out of the race to replace Wenger, who oversaw victory at Huddersfield in his 1,235th and last game at the helm on Sunday, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta has become favourite with several bookmakers.
The 36-year-old has spent two seasons working under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City having played for the Gunners for five years before hanging up his boots in 2016.
Guardiola said on Sunday he would like to continue working with Arteta but would not stand in his way should Arsenal come calling.
“If he stays I will be the happiest guy in the world and if he decides to move because he has this offer, this option, I will not say you do not have to go,” the City boss said.
Someone in a similar position to Arteta is Rui Faria, Jose Mourinho’s long-term assistant who will leave Manchester United at the end of the season.
Like Arteta, Faria has no previous managerial experience but Mourinho believes he is ready to make the step up.
Asked earlier this month if he felt Faria would be a good appointment for Arsenal, the United boss said: “I think so, yes. I don’t know (if he wants to be a manager). You ask me if I think it would be a good fit and I say ‘yes’.”
Other contenders such as Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers, former Arsenal captain and current head coach of New York City Patrick Vieira and ex-Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti are all viable options for Arsenal.
Whoever comes in has a huge void to fill following Wenger’s lengthy reign, which concluded with a 1-0 victory at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The 68-year-old was afforded a guard of honour and saw all four corners of the stadium rise of 22 minutes to applaud his achievements.
January recruit and club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the game’s only goal before admitting he was expecting Wenger to remain in place for much longer.
“I thought he would be at Arsenal for years,” the Gabon striker said after the game.
“But this is for life. This is football. Sometimes you never know. But I was happy to play for him.”
Provided by Press Association Sport