- Gianluigi Buffon turns 40 today, Sunday 28 January
- *The Italian joins the select club of great fortysomething keepers *
- Buffon will be one of the most notable absentees from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
Blowing out the 40 candles on his birthday cake this Sunday should be a mere formality for Gianluigi Buffon. The ageless Italian could probably blow out a few more if need be, so sprightly is he for one who is now into his fifth decade.
It is hard to imagine this youngest of fortysomethings – the figurehead of one of Europe’s finest teams – hanging up his gloves this coming June, when his contract with Juventus expires. The winner of the inaugural The Best FIFA Goalkeeper award last October, Buffon spent 2017 showcasing his ability to defy the passage of time.
*Buffon in 2017
- Sixth consecutive Serie A win with Juventus
- A runner-up in the UEFA Champions League
- Went 600 minutes without conceding a goal in Europe*
How long will the Juve legend carry on for? It is an obvious question for a keeper reaching such a ripe old age, and one that several other great custodians have answered in the past. While he still has some way to go to emulate Peter Shilton, who retired at 47, Buffon looks likely to overtake Dino Zoff, Thomas Nkono and Lev Yashin, who all called time on their careers at the age of 41 .
Some people say I’m perhaps the best, but there are others who disagree. In my case, my career and my statistics speak for me. You can’t deny the facts at this level. As for words, they just blow away in the wind.
Ever the competitor, Gigi cares more about performances than records. "I’m going to meet with the president soon and we’ll talk about it," said the disarmingly modest keeper in a recent interview with La Repubblica. "I want what’s good for the team. If Juventus think that I can still be important… I hope so, but we just have to find the right solution. We need to build something together. One thing I can tell you is that I don’t want to be a problem for the club and my team-mates."
2006: His annus mirabilis
Buffon ended his international career last November, following Italy’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ play-off defeat to Sweden. The 0-0 draw in the return leg against the Scandinavians was the keeper's 175th and last cap, a European record that will surely stand for a long time to come. La *Squadra Azzurra*’s elimination and Buffon’s subsequent retirement ended hopes of him becoming the only player in the history of the game to appear at six World Cups, his first being France 1998, where he was an unused substitute.
Not all of the five World Cups he graced bring happy memories for Buffon. Aged 20 at the time, he spent France 1998 watching Gianluca Pagliuca from the bench. At Korea/Japan 2002, meanwhile, Italy were knocked out in the Round of 16, and they failed to progress beyond the group phase at both South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. His other World Cup appearance at Germany 2006, however, saw him become a legend. Had it not been for his superb save from a flashing Zinedine Zidane header in the Final, Italy would perhaps not have made it to the penalty shootout where they earned a fourth star for the famous blue jersey. That outstanding stop was just one of many that earned him the Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper of the tournament, deserved recognition of his role as one of the main architects of Italy’s triumph.