"Ale Buffon, ale ale!"
- Buffon's legacy.
After 17 years of outstanding service, legendary shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon announced in a press conference that he would be leaving Juventus at the end of the season.
"You score goals as a kid, then you grow up stupid and become a goalkeeper -" Buffon had once quipped.
And boy oh boy, did he turn into some goalkeeper! Widely regarded as being the greatest shot-stopper of his time, the 40-year-old will leave having captained the Bianconeri to a seventh straight Scudetto, along with yet another Coppa Italia.
Buffon has been renowned for his consistent performances throughout his career and has received praise from managers, players, as well as both present and former goalkeeping colleagues, for his concentration and calm and composed demeanour under pressure, his work-rate, and longevity. Buffon is credited with being the original sweeper-keeper, rushing out of his box to prevent quick counter-attacks from the opposition, with his aggressive instinct and speed serving him well in one-on-one situations.
"The best goalkeeper I have ever faced was Buffon. When I was at Juventus, it was already difficult to get past Cannavaro and Thuram in defense during training sessions. If I managed to get past them, then I would find Buffon, and it was almost impossible to beat him!" - Zlatan Ibrahimovich.
Buffon has been singled out for his charisma, strong mentality, discipline in training, vocal presence in goal, and leadership and has been described as "a key dressing room personality," especially after a series of injuries between 2008 and 2010, coupled with an ageing body forced him to modify his approach, preferring to stay close to his line and give himself extra time to react to opposition strikers.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Buffon's legendary career has been the character he has commanded on the pitch, being universally applauded for the respect and love he has shown to the game, the opposition, his team-mates and fans of all teams. His career hasn't been without controversy, however, coming in for severe criticism, after he wore neo-fascist connotations on his shirt during games, was accused of betting illegally on Serie A matches, and with his recent post-match criticism of referee Michael Oliver drawing particularly negative reactions from the public.
Buffon's legacy at Juventus and Italy though is one that extends well beyond the football pitch. His on-field charisma, respect for the opposition, grit and perseverance is much admired by one and all, with his charity work receiving a great reception from the public.
"There have been some very good goalkeepers in my era, but Buffon is there for consistency. Most of the goalkeepers have had times when their form has not been so good, but Buffon has been at such a high level for so long." - Ronaldinho.
One of only three players to feature in five World Cups, Buffon, however, will be hugely disappointed by Italy's failure in qualifying for the 2018 edition. Gianluigi Buffon has established a plethora of records during his time at Juventus and Italy, including becoming the most capped player, the only goalkeeper to win the "UEFA Club Footballer of the Year" award(in 2003), and maintaining an incredible 973 minutes without conceding a goal during the 2016 campaign.
The "Maradona of goalkeepers" will play his final game for Juventus on Saturday versus Verona, ending his career with 23 major trophies, where he will lift his ninth Serie A trophy.
"Next week, after two or three days of reflection and serenity, I will take my decision," he said, with rumors of an offer from Liverpool doing the rounds.
Buffon has ruled out playing for another Italian side and may take a six-month sabbatical, during which time he also will stay away from the national team. Although he never got to win the Champions League, he will forever be remembered as the Italian "Superman," a gentleman in every sense of the word and one of the greatest to have graced the "beautiful game" with his presence.
"Ale Buffon, ale ale!" we say as another legend departs.