The drama of saying farewell is slowly unfolding for goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon as he turns 40 and looks at what could be his last season between the sticks.
Gianluigi Buffon turned 40 on Sunday mulling over the endpoint of his stellar career amid numerous encouragements to continue playing after more than 22 years of professional goalkeeping.
Buffon played his first game in the Italian Serie A in November 1995, keeping a clean sheet for Parma in a 0-0 draw against AC Milan and earning a prestigious 8.5 mark from daily newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.
He moved to powerhouse Juventus in 2001, where he has been captain since 2012. With the Bianconeri he won eight domestic titles, setting an all-time league record of 974 minutes without conceding during the 2015-16 season.
In September, the 2006 world champion announced his retirement from the Italian national team and planned to leave football at the end of the season, but later seemed to reconsider his proposals.
“The only important things that changed from September is that I wrongly took for granted two goals that are important in the career of a professional footballer,” Buffon said.
“The first was playing the World Cup, and unfortunately this chance was not taken; the second was the record of appearances in the Serie A, which does not happen everyday, but because of this injury it also vanished.”
Four-time world champions Italy failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup finals in Russia as they drew 0-0 draw against Sweden in Milan on September 13. It would have been Buffon’s sixth World Cup, an all-time record.
As for top-flight games, Buffon trails Milan defender Paolo Maldini, on 647 appearances, and would remain two games shy even if he played the remaining 16 of the season, having missed the last seven to injury.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri said that Buffon is to play Tuesday in the first leg of the Italian Cup semi-final at Atalanta and then continue on playing until the end of the season.
“Now I must think about a season in which I can do my best for Juve, where I know I can trust the people who will decide my future,” the goalkeeper said, hinting at a possible extension of the contract that ends in June.
A new contract would be quite likely if Juve win the Champions League in May – the elite trophy remains a glaring absence from Buffon’s honours list, despite his three finals.
His adieu met little encouragement from colleagues who spoke to France Football as the magazine gathered comments for the goalkeeper’s birthday.
“You are a model, an inspiration for goalkeepers of today and tomorrow,” Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois said. “Do not stop, keep playing. You will miss football and football will miss you.”
The retired Peter Schmeichel said he was honoured to have given Buffon the 2017 FIFA best goalkeeper award in October.
“The fact that you are still playing in one of Europe’s greatest clubs makes you a legend,” Schmeichel said.
Looking at his inevitable future off the pitch, Buffon said he could consider a coaching job, but not at a club, nor at the helm of Italy.