Date of birth: 28 January 1978
Height: 1.91 m
Weight: 83 kg
Playing career: 1995-200: Parma (Italy). Since 2000: Juventus (Italy).
Honors: UEFA Cup Winner (1999), Italian cup winner (1999), Italian league champion (2002,2003), Italian super cup winner (1999, 2002, 2003), FIFA World Cup TM champion (2006). 75 appearances for Italy.
Miscellaneous: Buffon is engaged to Czech model Alena Seredova.
“I hope I’ll still be around in 2018”
Many experts consider Gianluigi Buffon to be the best goalkeeper in the world. In this interview the 29-year-old Italian, who won the World Cup with Italy last year, talks about his ambitions, staying loyal to Juventus and football’s social responsibility.
Question: UEFA President Michel Platini believes that all you need to be successful in modern football is an outstanding goalkeeper and a genuine goalscorer, as the nine players who operate between the two are of a similar standard in every team, which leads to an overemphasis on tactics. Do you agree?
Gianluigi Buffon: Not entirely. Perhaps Michel Platini is trying to emphasise the importance of those two key positions at critical moments of a match. When a goalscoring opportunity arises the goalkeeper and the striker have the crowd’s full attention. But in my experience it is precisely the players who aren’t in the spotlight who win you matches. Italy lifting the World Cup in Germany is just one example. Our 13 goals were scored by ten different players rather than one out-and-out goalscorer. The team shone as a whole, not just a handful of individuals. Most of the credit for that goes to coach Marcello Lippi, of course. He moulded the national team into a unit, which is anything but easy.
Question: You won the Lev Yashin Award as the best goalkeeper at the World Cup and ran Fabio Cannavaro close in the voting for the Golden Ball in 2006 FIFA World Player awards. Many experts have rated you the best in your trade for years.
Gianluigi Buffon: I owe those awards in part to colleagues such as the Czechs Republic’s Petr Czech, Spain’s Iker Casillas and the Netherlands’ Edwin van der Sar, who with their performances have done so much to elevate the position of goalkeeper. But I would also remind you that Italy was well represented in all the lists of winners with Pirlo, Zambrotta, Gattuso, Toni, Grosso, Totti, Del Piero etc. Winning with your team-mates and friends is still as good as it gets. Team spirit is the secret behind all successful teams. I keep giving my all in training because I believe I’ve only reached 80% of my potential. Football is my job and my passion and I hope I’ll be blessed with a long career, having turned professional and made my debut in Serie A and the national team when I was 18.
Question: Dino Zoff was 40 when he won the World Cup in Spain in 1982.
Gianluigi Buffon: I was 28 when I won it, but Dino Zoff has achieved much more than I have. Italy get to the World Cup final every twelve years on average (1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006), so I hope I’ll still be around in 2018 when I’m 40. I always admired Dino Zoff’s loyalty to Juventus and the national team. If I can get anywhere near Dino, who’s veritable monument to Italian football, and at the same time stay true to my values of individuality, loyalty and patriotism, then I’ll be happy. I believe I can play at the top level until I’m 35 at least, as I’ve always gone for flexibility and dynamism rather than pure muscle strength. I now have 75 international appearances to my name and I’d love to catch up with Paolo Maldini (126), Dino Zoff (112) and Giacinto Faccetti (94) one day.
Q: You opted to stay at Juventus last season and play in Serie B rather than the Champions League, despite receiving offers from AC Milan, Inter, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Gianluigi Buffon: I stayed at Juventus because I had the feeling they needed me. The club officials presented me with credible plans for gaining promotion back to Serie A and assembling a squad that was capable of competing for the league title and the Champions League. And then there were the fans, who backed to me to a man because I stayed, unlike others like Zambrotta, Cnavarro, Emerson, Vieira and Ibrahimovic. With Alessandro del Piero also in the side we tackled Serie B as if it were a prestigious tournament. I love being in the spotlight. In my career so far I’ve never lost two games in a row and I could never play in a poor team with no ambition. Juventus gave me all the assurances I needed.
Q: Aren’t you envious of your international team-mates at domestic champions Inter Milan or Champions League winners AC Milan?
Gianluigi Buffon: In my younger days I would have begrudged them their success, but you mature when you get older and it was Milan’s win in Athens that actually convinced me I was right to stay at Juventus. Oddo, Gattuso, Pirlo, Inzaghi, Gilardino, Maldini, Ambrosini and Costacurta experienced the same kind of jubilation in Athens as we experienced together in Berlin last year. I wasn’t envious; I felt admiration for their collective efforts. The team won it “together”. It wasn’t just a randomly assembled group of players who keep changing teams. Del Piero, Camoranesi and I want to experience those moments of joy again. Together we can attract more top players to Juventus and build another team that is capable of winning things. Our new coach, Claudio Ranieri, is a synonym for ambition and has plenty of international experience and contacts, as his outstanding record at Valencia and Chelsea shows.
Q: The “club or country” choice is a source of perpetual conflict. Some key players (Nesta and Totti) are refusing to play for the Italian national team …
Gianluigi Buffon: … for understandable physical and personal reasons. Decisions such as these should be respected, especially as they are great players who have played for the national team for almost ten years. They will return sooner or later, but at the moment they have other priorities. Health and family are important values, after all. At the moment I can’t imagine not playing for my country. But things can change.
Q: Today’s Gianluigi Buffon is much different to the younger version. Were you more an overzealous fan than a proper professional back then?
Gianluigi Buffon: Fortunately we all develop as people. These days I’m careful about what I say and do because I realize it would be fatal, at my age and at the peak of my career, to be cocky and flippant. When you’re 17 you don’t have the maturity you need to handle that kind of professional responsibility. I was still a teenager, after all, and youthful nonchalance was all I had. It was the only way I could cope with the pressure and slowly grow more mature. It’s normal for a 17-year-old to act without thinking and for a 29-year-old to act more sensibly. The most important thing is to stay to yourself. That’s what I was able to do.
Q: Sometimes you escape the world of football. You and your fiancée, the Czech model Alena Seredova, are fast becoming the Italian Beckhams – attractive, rich and famous – and you regularly make the front pages of the tabloid press.
Gianluigi Buffon: The media obsession with football and the extraordinary significance of the game are making us more like Hollywood stars. Because the media report on our private lives and careers every day we have now become role models. Football, and everyone involved in it, must accept its social responsibility and do what it can to strengthen moral values and make the world a better place. We can’t afford any mistakes and we have to think carefully about what we say and do. In my spare time I read a lot about history, politics, society and business, to make sure I don’t lose touch with reality and become isolated from the rest of mankind, locked in an ivory tower.