Gigi Buffon – the early days in Calcio: A digital history
Goalden Times presents the immortal story of Gianluigi Buffon’s early career in Calcio before he joined Juventus in 20 vintage photographs accompanied by Devrup Jyoti Gupta‘s fantastic writing on this living legend during his days in Parma and how he became an icon of Italian football.
Gianluigi Buffon was born in the month of January in 1978. He belonged to a family of athletes; his mother was a well renowned shot-put and discus champion, his uncle played basketball, his father was a weightlifter while his sisters were volleyball players. Buffon’s uncle was a former goalkeeper who represented teams in Serie A and the Nazionale. Gigi joined Canaletto di La Spezia football at the age of six and actually took up the role as a midfielder. Italia 90 however changed his outlook as Gigi discovered his idol, Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono and eventually changed his position on the field. ‘It seems destiny made me a goalkeeper,’ Buffon told UEFA as he reflected on his 20 years. ‘I started to play, like all kids do, not as a goalkeeper. I liked scoring goals. ‘My dad suggested I change and try to play in goal. I always liked being at the heart of the action, trying to experience different situations and different challenges. ‘I think after five or six months I became a pretty good goalkeeper as I probably had some talent; that immediately drew a lot of attention to me.’ After signing with Parma, Buffon made his debut in 1992 after both first-choice goalkeepers got injured. On 20th November 1995, Parma gave the 17-year old Gigi his senior debut against the giants AC Milan, boasting the likes of Marco van Basten, Roberto Baggio and George Weah and he kept an impressive clean sheet on that day. That match has since become folklore in the history of Calcio thanks to Buffon’s heroics. His save to deny Weah in the second half was arguably the most notable one that day. He stayed at Parma until 2001, winning the UEFA Cup, the Coppa Italia and the Italian Supercoppa, with a squad which had big names like Juan Seba Veron, Hernan Crespo, Lilllian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro.
However his ambition was to win the Scudetto and it was his father who convinced him that a move to Juventus would be the ideal chance of him fulfilling that dream. In the summer of 2001, Buffon completed his move to Juventus for a €53 million fee (a world record for a goalkeeper). Buffon made his debut for the national team in October 1997 in the heavy snow against Russia. Once again it was an injury to first choice Gianluigi Pagliuca which gave him the chance and his heroic save to deny Dmitri Alenichev ensured Italy’s qualification for the World Cup in France. Given the magnitude of the occasion and Buffon’s lack of experience, it was a huge task for the teenager. He made a number of crucial saves before conceding an unfortunate own goal from Fabio Cannavaro (the two would go on to win the World Cup 9 years later). The game ended 1-1 in Russia; Italy won the return leg and Buffon travelled to France 98 as second choice keeper. The list of silverware Buffon has to his name after joining Juventus is staggering but more than those his decision to stay with the club in 2006 after the Calciopoli scandal cemented his legendary status. His leadership has been one of the major reasons why Juventus have re-established themselves as the undisputed winners in Italy. But there have been lows as well in his career. Buffon came under heavy criticism for wearing the squad number 88 at Parma. The Jewish community in Italy felt that the figure was a Neo-Nazi symbol and the fact that Buffon previously had displayed a shirt bearing pro-fascists chant, did not help his cause either. Buffon himself admitted he went through a ‘dark period’ in 2003 and 2004 and had to consult a psychologist to tackle this complicated situation. If he is still active and fit in 2018, Buffon will surely make the Italy squad for a record-breaking sixth World Cup provided the Azzuri qualify for the main event in Russia. Maybe his last hurrah will be on the stage where he made his debut in the snows 20 years ago..