As Juventus goalkeeper returns to the city where he won the World Cup
- Veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is set to play in the Champions League final against Barcelona in Berlin
- Buffon lifted the World Cup with Italy in Berlin back in 2006
- The 37-year-old has enjoyed a highly successful career and there are calls for him to be awarded the Ballon d’Or in the Italian press
- Despite numerous offers to leave Juve, Buffon has remained loyal
- Should Buffon lift the Champions League this year, it would be a befitting achievement of an incredible player
The road to Berlin started almost a decade ago in Rimini as Gigi Buffon conceded a late equaliser and Juventus started life in Serie B by drawing against 10 men.
It did not bode well for his decision to stick with Juve after relegation in 2006. There have been dark moments in an illustrious career but Buffon returns to the German capital, where he helped Italy become world champions, aiming to close the circle with another improbable triumph.
If he is to wrap his gloves around the European Cup for the first time, his team must repel Barcelona.
Veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will appear in the Champions League final on Saturday
Buffon kisses the World Cup trophy as Italy win the 2006 tournament in Berlin, beating France in the final
‘I would love to see the maestro with the cup in his hands,’ said Chelsea keeper Petr Cech after Juventus had beaten Real Madrid in the semi-final. In the weeks since, Italy’s media has devoted great energy to the debate over whether Buffon deserves the Ballon D’Or.
No keeper has won the accolade since Lev Yashin in 1963. No Italian since 2006, when Fabio Cannavaro pipped Buffon.
‘It is difficult to find a goalkeeper like him who has been reborn through the years,’ said Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri. ‘He deserves the Ballon D’Or regardless of the final.’
Marco Tardelli rates him as highly as Dino Zoff. ‘They are two amazing goalkeepers who shaped the history of football,’ said Tardelli.
‘Maybe Buffon has more pure, natural quality and didn’t have to work as hard. Great goalkeepers, and statesmen, in different ways. Buffon is more of a joker. Zoff comes across very seriously, but he is a warm and lovely person.’
Buffon’s time seemed up following a back injury he suffered at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He did not play for six months. Juventus bought Marco Storari as a replacement. John Elkann, president of Exor, Juve’s holding company, dared wonder aloud if the No 1 might never recapture his true form. Buffon was furious and made up his mind to leave.
Manchester City were on alert, although Buffon revealed in his autobiography that he always had a yearning to play for West Ham, ever since meeting some of their supporters when he was a young ultra with Carrarese, his hometown club.
There had been serious offers from Milan and Barcelona when Juventus were relegated in the Calciopoli corruption scandal, but he remained loyal. Less than five years later and the owners were hurrying him aside as he fought for fitness.
Such have been Buffon’s performances, he has drawn comparisons to legendary Italian goalie Dino Zoff
Buffon makes a save during the international friendly match against Holland back in February, 2013
Buffon celebrates with the Serie A trophy this season as Juve claim their fourth consecutive Scudetto
Buffon stretches to make a fantastic save from England’s Glen Johnson (left) during Euro 2012
It was only his agent Silvano Martina who urged him to wait and, when Antonio Conte arrived a few months later, implored Buffon to stay.
He and wife Alena separated and the goalkeeper started dating Ilaria D’Amico, presenter of Sky TV’s Calcio Show. It has been a new lease of life. The 37-year-old has won eight Serie A titles (although Juve were stripped of two after Calciopoli), and has joined Beppe Furino, Gaetano Scirea and Alessandro del Piero in playing more than 500 games for the club.
It was not the first time Buffon had recovered from the brink. Soon after defeat in the Champions League final in 2003, he sought treatment for depression and insisted on going public with his problems. This swashbuckling hero, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, was human after all.
Perhaps it is why he is able to appreciate this return to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where Buffon will close the circle.
‘For Gigi,’ said Roberto Perrone, close friend of Buffon and ghost writer of his autobiography Numero 1, ‘this is the most important match of the last 12 years.’
Buffon is in a relationship with the presenter of Sky TV’s Calcio Show, Ilaria D’Amico (left)
Winning the Champions League this season would be an achievement befitting of Buffon’s incredible career
Source : Daily Mail