“If one day I believe that my errors are because I am no longer nimble or not reading the situations properly, then I’ll be the first to put my hands up and retire,” Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told L’Equipe. “The truth is that criticism motivates me and when I no longer feel that rage to prove myself, it’ll be time to quit.
“The plan is to hang up my gloves after the 2018 World Cup. If I’m able to play in six World Cups, then I’ll be happy.”
Buffon has often been described as the best goalkeeper of all time.Starting his career at Parma, the Carrara native moved to Juventus in 2001, and has since made 600 appearances for the Bianconeri. Making his senior Azzurri debut under Cesare Maldini on October 29th 1997, Gianluigi Buffon has also amassed a record-breaking 167 caps for his country.or Italy, his greatest victory came in 2006, captaining his side to triumph at the World Cup.
During that competition the 6’3” stopper had a huge part to play for his side, including an astonishing right-handed save from Lukas Podolski that was heading for the top corner in the semi-final with Germany. Italy went on to win that tie 2-0, and in the final, Buffon was to be decisive yet again.
It was a save that has perhaps been forgotten – with the final now best remembered for Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt on Marco Materazzi – but Buffon kept Italy in the tie with an astonishing save from a bullet header before ‘Zizou’ had been expelled from the pitch. Italy would, of course, go on to triumph in the penalty shootout and Buffon lifted the trophy having conceded just two goals during the entire World Cup.
Having enjoyed such longevity throughout his highly-decorated career, Italy should now have a mountain to climb in terms of finding a replacement for the 38-year-old stopper.
But they don’t. Once Buffon does decide to walk away, AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is waiting in the wings to ease the pain felt by Azzurri supporters. At just 17 years old, the youngster already stands at 6’5” tall, and his incredible performances seeing him linked with a whole host of top clubs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, reports suggest that Juventus are one of those sides who have set their sights on Donnarumma, as they too look to replace their veteran goalkeeper of the same first name.
Such rumours have increased thanks to his so-called Super Agent Mino Raiola, the man responsible for high-profile transfers such as Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United this summer. Talk in the press has prompted Milan boss Vincenzo Montella to tell Raiola to ‘be quiet’, but the player in question has repeatedly reiterated his desire to remain at San Siro. “Everyone says I’m Buffon’s heir, the 17-year-old told Rai Sport. “Right now I am focused only on Milan and I’m doing well there, as it’s the team I have supported since I was a child. I am already at a top club.”
After breaking the record in 2015 for the youngest ever stopper to appear in Serie A at 16 years and 142 days, ‘Gigio’ did the same for his country, earning his first cap aged just 17 years and 189 days. A player of the same age could expect to be sent out on loan from a club of Milan’s stature, but Donnarumma’s performances have given none of their coaches a reason to drop him since being handed his debut by Siniša Mihajlović.
Indeed, the Serbian – now at Torino – joked about his regrets over giving Donnarumma that initial chance in the starting lineup. “If I had known he was going to save the penalty, I wouldn’t have given him his debut!” Mihajlović quipped to Sky Sport Italia, after his former player kept out an Andrea Belotti spot-kick to deny the Granata a last-gasp draw early on in the season.
Statistics show that that Donnarumma has been learning. According to FoxSports.com, the youngster has kept out 58/80 shots on target faced by the Rossoneri this term, compared with 78/107 in the previous Serie A campaign.
With 18 months before the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the youngster has an opportunity to learn from the best that most goalkeepers could only dream of at the start of their career. “I have a wonderful rapport with Buffon,” Donnarumma continued in his interview with Rai. “In these first few call-ups he has given me so much. I follow his every movement in training, because I want to learn everything from him.”
Whilst his size, athleticism and shot-stopping abilities are undoubtedly what set the Neapolitan-born player apart from the rest, his ability to stay calm under pressure remains the factor that is most astonishing for a player of that age.
The previously shaky Milan backline has certainly been improved this term, Montella having instilled discipline and organisation into the central pair of Gabriel Paletta and Alessio Romagnoli. Even so, Donnarumma has still bailed out his side on multiple occasions, his commanding presence allowing the 17-year-old to vociferously rebuke vastly more experienced players for their errors.
“If it were not for Buffon ahead of him, he probably would have already been [the] number one choice in the first team,” Italy coach Giampiero Ventura admitted in a radio interview. “He has an extraordinarily important future. In front there is Buffon, who has made the history of Juventus and that of the National team. Behind, perhaps, another Buffon is developing.”
People say that they wait for ages for a London bus, then two come along at once. This certainly hasn’t been the case with Italy’s goalkeeping situation, with Genoa’s Mattia Perin perhaps previously earmarked as Buffon’s successor before the emergence of Donnarumma. Despite appearing in the U17 European Championship and World cup for Italy in 2009, Perin hasn’t really progressed beyond being a reliable ‘keeper at club level.
Another option between the Azzurri sticks was Salvatore Sirigu, but after a regular place in the PSG starting lineup was taken by Kevin Trapp, the 29-year-old departed on loan for Sevilla where he has made just two starts in La Liga.
With little other credible options available, the apparently seamless transition between Gianluigi Buffon and Gianluigi Donnarumma is looking more and more like a real gift for fans of the Azzurri.