was Thomas N’Kono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He quickly became my hero and I called my son Louis Thomas in his honour.
Gianluigi Buffon is one of the leviathans of world football. Italy’s undisputed No1 for the last 15 years, the venerable Juventus goalkeeper is a natural successor to the great Dino Zoff, a fellow FIFA World Cup™ winner at the ripe old age of 40.
Since making his debut for La Nazionale against Russia in Moscow on 29 October 1997, Buffon has added another 125 caps to his collection. A world champion with his country at Germany 2006, where he won the Yashin Award for the Best Goalkeeper, the peerless Italian custodian has captained his country since the arrival of Cesare Prandelli in the dugout in 2010.
A commanding presence both on his line and off it, Super Gigi – as his many admirers call him – has lost none of his powers at the age of 35 and has no plans to retire just yet. Still hungry for success with Juve, he also has high hopes for the national team, who are flying high in their qualification group for Brazil 2014 and who will represent Europe at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 this June.
Reflecting on the many highlights of his illustrious career, the great Italian keeper spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Up until the age of 14 you played as a defensive midfielder. Legend has it that it was the performances of Cameroon keeper Thomas N’Kono at Italy 1990 that made you want to be a goalkeeper. Is that right?
Gianluigi Buffon: Yes it is. It was Thomas N’Kono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He quickly became my hero and I called my son Louis Thomas in his honour. After he was born N’Kono called to congratulate me.
They say that goalkeepers are like fine wine: they get better with age. When do you think keepers reach their peak?
I don’t know. Obviously when you reach 30 it’s a crucial point in your life, and it’s the same in sport. Once you get past 30 you have to draw on your experience when you play and when you train. You need to work hard to stay at the same level. After that ...
Do you think goalkeeping captains can fulfil their duties when they are so far away from the action?
I’ve never felt that being a captain is just about wearing an armband. A real captain is one who plays an important role for the team on the pitch and in the dressing room, regardless of the position they play in.
It was Thomas N’Kono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He quickly became my hero and I called my son Louis Thomas in his honour.
Which defender do you or did you have the best understanding with?
There are five, no question: Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
Is a big save as important as a goal?
I honestly think it is. Goalkeepers know that it’s hard for them to make up for any mistakes they might commit. It’s a position that demands total concentration. You can never afford to relax.
What’s the most important save you’ve ever made in your career?
It’s very hard to pick one out in particular. Luckily, I’ve had quite a few, though I think one I made from Zinedine Zidane in the Final at the 2006 World Cup in Germany was probably the most decisive.
In your first season with Juventus in 2001/02 you let in just 23 goals in 34 league matches. Is that still your record?
It’s the best defensive record for sure. It would be great if we could manage to improve on what we achieved 11 years ago.
You’ve made nearly 800 appearances at club level and 126 for your country. Which coach has had the biggest impact on you and has understood you better than anyone?
I don’t want to be boring but I think every coach has had a decisive impact on my career development. I have to say, though, that Antonio Conte is definitely the best coach I’ve worked with. In a short space of time he’s managed to breathe new life into a team that in two seasons could do no better than seventh place. And he was a winner straightaway.
It’s a position that demands total concentration. You can never afford to relax.
Which striker has posed you the most problems?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a really great player who has always impressed me and given me problems.
Which defender would you like to have had in front of you?
I couldn’t choose any better defenders than all the ones I’ve already played with.
What does Juventus mean to you?
A life of success, struggle and commitment. It’s a family I’ve grown up in and helped others to grow in. It’s a kind of life choice, a way of life.
According to Andrea Agnelli the extension of your contract involves nothing more than a handshake because you are what he describes as ‘a decent person’ and you are ‘at home at Juve’.
That’s right. There’s not much more you can say about it. When you build up an excellent relationship, as in this particular case, you don’t really need words to come to an agreement.
What goes through your mind as a 35-year-old national team captain when you see kids aged 19 coming into the side?
That time stops for no man. I made my debut when I was 17 and now I’m 35. I can’t stop the clock from ticking, but I’m very much at peace with myself and I’m not worried about it. The future belongs to the youngsters and I’m just trying to pass on the experience I’ve acquired over the years.
Italy are playing a more expansive game these days. Has that come at the cost of their traditional defensive strengths?
Thanks to the excellent job Cesare Prandelli is doing, I think we’ve found a balance between defensive solidity and an attacking approach that allows our great forwards to express themselves better.
Do you see the FIFA Confederations Cup as a dress rehearsal for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil?
More than anything it’s an excellent test.
Which team would you like to meet in the final?
Brazil, because of their history and because it’s always exciting to take on the host country.
You bought your hometown club Carrarese Calcio a little while ago. Should we call you the Captain or the President?
Just call me Gigi. That will do.