When Gianluigi Buffon made his professional debut for Parma in November 1995, most of his new teammates weren’t even born. If I had wanted to check this fact on the internet at the time, I couldn’t google it: I would need to use a search engine like WebCrawler (it still exists, in case you want to move on to it). ‘old) on a browser like Mosaic and hopefully someone uploaded players’ birthdates somewhere on the nascent global web because obviously football clubs didn’t have websites. (Their first form of technology was end-of-season DVDs.)
Five and a half years later, after making his debut for Italy and establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, he joined Juventus in 2001 for around € 54.5million. It wasn’t just a world record for a goalie; it was a record that would last 17 years, until Alisson (€ 62.5m) and Kepa Arrizabalaga (€ 80m) moved to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.
Two decades – and 11 league titles, five national cups and a World Cup – later, Buffon is back where it all began. It is therefore not surprising that Parma chose the superhero path by opting for the hashtag #SupermanReturns in his “welcome” video.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” he told ESPN. “The idea that an athlete could be the same after 20 years, in the same role as before… wow… I don’t know how many athletes in any sport have had this privilege. C ‘is something I absolutely wanted. .. “
Buffon is now 43 years old. He has supported Wojciech Szczesny at Juventus for the past two seasons but still managed to start 29 games in that span – a sample size enough to know he can still contribute on the pitch. “Age is just a number” is of course just a cliché, even if you look at Zlatan Ibrahimovic (39) and Cristiano Ronaldo (36) and wonder if there is not a part of the truth in there. Sure, keepers have more longevity, but Buffon went way beyond that.
The hunger is there, as well as the physical form. You wonder how long this will continue.
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“I hope that [Cristiano’s] so that I quit first, ”he laughs. “And I have an idea in my head when that moment can be … but I also reserve the right to bring forward that day or postpone it!”
Buffon has been asked about its longevity for many years, offering common answers you might expect. Professionalism, taking care of your body, the chance to avoid serious injury, enthusiasm, good genes, desire – all of these things are probably true for elite athletes who perform beyond their age. But Buffon goes beyond that, citing examples of how you can use age to actually improve yourself.
“Honestly, there are a lot of areas where you can improve over time,” he says. “I learned this lesson when I was maybe 36 or 37. I started to realize that if you’re serious about it, you’re doing it the right way and you’re in the right mental state. , you will never stop learning and improving yourself.
“I’m perfectly honest, when I now compare myself to what I was before, I have improved in a number of areas, where maybe before I was weaker. Obviously I will have decreased in some areas. others – that’s normal – but overall, when I look at myself objectively, I don’t feel like I’m any worse than six or seven years ago. “
Everyone knows what age does to us. At some point you lose muscle mass, strength, agility, your recovery time lengthens: all of these things go together. But that’s only part of being a goalie. Buffon cites experience, mental strength and the ability to read a game, it all makes sense. But there are others as well.
“I’ll give you a very obvious example,” he said. “I always had a really good right foot for passing. [Buffon was a midfielder until he was 14 years old.] The game has obviously evolved over the past 25 years and goalies are encouraged to do a lot more with their feet than before. I was fine with it, because I was very confident on my right. My left was OK, but I was only really using it to clear the ball or to hit a short pass – never to make it long or precise. “
“But then I really started working on it in my mid-30s and I really improved,” he adds. “I never thought I would get to the point where my kicks would be almost even with either foot, but that’s where I am. I truly believe that with repetition, a serious training and muscle memory, all with the right frame of mind, almost nothing is impossible for a human being. “
Return to Parma. When he left in 2001, they were emerging from a golden age: nine consecutive top five, two wins in Coppa Italia, a UEFA Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup. They were lucky to have superstars, from Lilian Thuram to Gianfranco Zola, from Hernan Crespo to Fabio Cannavaro, from Claudio Taffarel to Tino Asprilla. Over the next 15 years or so, the club went bankrupt, two owners were sentenced to prison terms in separate cases, and Parma was reformed from the amateur ranks.
A year ago they were bought out by Iowa businessman Kyle Krause and after being relegated Buffon will start again in Serie B.
“I was encouraging them to stay up all last season – I’m a Parma fan, after all. I joined at 13 and stayed 10 years,” Buffon said. “Parma started my career. They helped me become who I am, and now maybe it’s my turn to help them become great again. As they were before and as they deserve to be. to be. But I want to be clear. I did not choose Serie B: I chose Parma. “
For him, the only difference is that the rise in the ranks starts in Serie B, rather than down in Serie A. But he knows where he wants to take them.
“Sometimes you are lucky, and this club is very lucky to have been taken over by a guy like Krause,” said Buffon. And then, against all odds, he released a statistic. “He is ambitious and he has every reason to be. When you say Parma, you mean the fourth most successful Italian club in Europe, in terms of trophies. Overall, we are 16th. We have to respect and honor this story. “
As for when he can quit, there’s no expiration date on his sleeve. Few athletes, in any sport, are as introspective and open-minded as Buffon. A few years ago, he detailed his episodes of depression in his early twenties, how they rocked his belief that “if you have money and success you cannot be miserable” and how he developed the tools to deal with mental health problems.
In an often macho and testosterone-laden athletic world, it’s a refreshing voice and a reminder that even this Superman had his kryptonite, a challenge he recognized, rose to and overcome.