Gianluigi Buffon made his 1,000th senior appearance on Friday when Italy faced Albania in a World Cup 2018 qualifier in Palermo.
It’s the latest landmark in a legendary career that has seen Buffon win just about every major honour in European and world football, with the Champions League and European Championships the only trophies missing from a glittering resumé.
Here’s a look at what some of his contemporaries have had to say about the Italy and Juventus great, as well as a few priceless quotes from the man himself.
Where does Buffon rank among the all-time greatest goalkeepers?
Casillas and Buffon were at times regarded as the two best goalkeepers in the world, and the Spaniard has spoken extensively about his respect for his Italian opposite number.
“He is an exceptional goalkeeper. He has my admiration and maximum respect. For goalkeepers that are a little younger than him, he has been a reference. He has driven us, and we wanted to be like him.”
“What can I say about Gigi? He has been a point of reference for my generation and for the generations to come. For anyone who, like me, dreamed of becoming a goalkeeper, he represented the platform, the shop window where you hoped to arrive and to feature alongside him.”
“As I grew up, I looked up to him, and then we evolved together and we’ve had similar careers. We’ve both won a lot and we’ve often played against each other.
I think Italian football won’t have another goalkeeper like him.
Ours is a healthy, positive rivalry: we really appreciate each other and playing against him is always a pleasure.
In Europe and around the world, he’s considered one of the best of all time. He is a player who is known and admired all over the world and he is part of the history of this game.”
Europeans with the most international appearances in history:— UEFA EURO (@UEFAEURO) March 24, 2017
Gianluigi Buffon – 167
Iker Casillas – 167
Pirlo and Buffon came up together in the Italian youth set-up and were integral to Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph. They also played together at club level when Pirlo joined Juventus. Pirlo, widely regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, has even higher praise for his long-time teammate.
“He is an exceptional goalkeeper. I’m lucky to have played with him since we were 15. For me, he’s unique, and perhaps the best goalkeeper ever. Watching him playing and training is awesome.”
Guardiola played against Buffon during his brief spell in the Serie A and has come up against the Italian shot-stopper many times during his managerial career, so much so that the Spaniard believes he can’t do justice to Buffon with words of praise.
“We don’t need to talk about his quality as a goalkeeper. I admire him hugely and the years he’s played at top level.”
After Buffon had proved crucial in a 2-1 Champions League win over Manchester City, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri hailed his goalkeeper as one of the best ever at the position.
“I hope he will go on for as long as possible, certainly as long as I am manager. Buffon is someone who is an extraordinary goalkeeper, perhaps the best ever in the history of football. He never fails. Buffon pulled off many miraculous saves.”
The Dutch great was an admirer of the Juventus side that, under Antonio Conte, won three successive Serie A titles and reached the 2015 Champions League final, and reserved special praise for Buffon’s performances in goal.
“He deserves to be a candidate for the Ballon D’Or. He’s been great for many years and just like Alessandro del Piero, he has Juve in him.”
Manuel Neuer is currently considered the best goalkeeper in the world, although some would argue Buffon still holds that title. The German has certainly looked up to Buffon throughout his career, and the respect between the two goalkeeping stars is evident.
“He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and he has always been an example for me. He has great charisma and when I see him still playing today I hope that I can have as long a career as his.”
“Buffon is my idol.”
Former Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono was Buffon’s idol, and the reason Buffon chose to become a keeper. N’Kono had starred at the 1990 World Cup, and the young Italian was among the many mesmerized by his displays in goal. Buffon later named his son Thomas in his idol’s honour.
“It’s an honour for me to have inspired a player who has given so much joy to football lovers, and to have influenced his career.”
“I met him in Parma. We got along well and I invited him to my farewell match in Cameroon. He agreed to come but I didn’t believe him. You can’t imagine when I was told that he was going to the airport. To make the Yaounde-Douala trip by bus only shows that humility comes before money.
When he decides to retire he must invite me in his farewell match. I will throw myself onto the pitch for one last time, in his honour.”
During the latter stages of the 2014/15 Champions League, when Buffon’s Juventus faced Real Madrid in the semi-finals, then-Chelsea keeper Petr Cech made his preference known: “Let the best team win but I would love to see ‘the maestro’ with the cup in his hands.”
On multiple occasions, Cech has made it clear how much of an impact Buffon had on his career.
“Oliver Kahn, Peter Schmeichel, and Edwin Van der Sar inspired me early in my career. Each of them had something inspiring, because they were all different characters. Then Buffon appeared and changed everything.”
“Buffon is unique because of his personality. He affects his team-mates not just through his saves but through his presence and leadership. He is a key player at crucial moments in a match and he gives security to his defence, who trust him with their eyes closed.”
Pagliuca was Italy goalkeeper in the years before Buffon emerged, and he attributes his compatriot’s brilliance to something beyond just natural talent.
“He has a great stride but he is always well positioned on his line and anticipates the play well. He is like a psychic predicting the future, or in this case the path of the ball.”
Cannavaro was captain when Italy won the World Cup in 2006, and saw up close how brilliant Buffon could be between the goalposts.
“Gigi has an extraordinary sense of position, especially for shouts from outside the box. He’s always positioned very well.”
Dino Zoff was once considered Italy’s greatest-ever goalkeeper, until Buffon came along. But if Zoff has any hard feelings about being usurped, he hides them well.
“Even as a young player he was doing things I had never seen other players his age do. He is a champion and will always be.”
Barthez began making a name for himself even earlier than Buffon, having become the youngest goalkeeper to win the Champions League in 1993 (a record that would later be broken by Casillas) and then winning the 1998 World Cup. But even he was in awe of his Italian counterpart.
“When Buffon is in goal you feel like nothing can get past him. He is one of those players who leaves a mark on the sport and has influenced generations of goalkeepers. When we met in Berlin, there were no words between us, just a look.”
Zenga, part of the Italy team that finished third in the 1990 World Cup, was considered one of the best goalkeepers of his generation. But he’s in no doubt about who’s the best.
“Sometimes people called me the best in the world, but Gianluigi is stronger than me, and I’d put him in first place. Technically he’s a complete player, but he also has very important moral qualities as well. He has that in spades. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffon was still playing at 45. Maybe not for Juventus, but maybe in the US.”
Hart and Buffon have had some memorable clashes in the Champions League and on the international stage, and it’s clear the England man holds Buffon in high regard.
“He’s a huge name in football. He’s been a legend for years. I love the way he plays. He’s got a great style about him and he seems to have good mannerisms, the way he plays, is in control of the situation and seems like a likeable person. He doesn’t go looking for action, which is key goalkeeping-wise.”
The young Milan shot-stopper is the man most likely to become Italy’s next No. 1, whenever Buffon finally decides to call it a day, and Donnarumma knows he’ll have big shoes to fill.
“He is my idol. My dream is to become first-choice goalkeeper for the national team, following in his footsteps. Everyone would love to have a career like his.”
Ibrahimovic was once Buffon’s teammate at Juventus, and then the two clashed often during the Swede’s spells at AC Milan and Inter Milan. Zlatan summed up Buffon in his own inimitable style:
“In goal, Buffon is the wall.”
Villiam Vecchi, Buffon’s first-ever goalkeeping coach at Parma
Villiam Vecchi has the distinction of having coached both Buffon and Casillas, as he was the goalkeeping coach when Buffon was coming through the ranks at Parma and later took up the same role at Real Madrid. The veteran coach believed goalkeeping was what Buffon was meant to do.
“This is what he was made for. He was born to do this.”
And here are a few quotes from the legend himself:
On how he plans to go out
“How do I imagine my last ever game? Maybe I’ll go out like Zidane, headbutting someone on the pitch!”
And his expectations for the next World Cup
“In recent times Italy have been in a World Cup final every 12 years and I hope to still be there in 2018.”
In a love letter he penned to his goal after breaking the Serie A record for minutes without conceding a goal
“I was 12 when I turned my back on you, denying my past to guarantee you a safe future.
I went with my heart.
I went with my instinct.
But the day I stopped looking you in the face is also the day that I started to love you.”
And reflecting on his journey through football
“It’s been a beautiful journey. I have changed very much. At first I was a boy with all the virtues and the shortcomings of boys. Now I am an adult, I’m more mature and reflexive, and I hope not to make certain errors.
[Am I legend?] No, no, legends seem to have something that isn’t very human and I don’t like them. I am an athlete with soul, with heart, for the good and for the bad, that’s for others to judge.
I consider myself a footballer who marked a part of the history of the sport in Italy, in Europe and in the world. But you turn into a legend when you die. I hope that’s in the very distant future!”
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