Connect in the back of the net

There is an air about Gianluigi Buffon suggesting he is unmovable, the goalkeeper who made his senior debut for Parma aged 17 back in 1995 and is still around 21 years and 793 appearances later, breaking records like he did for Juventus at the weekend.

The 38 year old is Italy’s most capped player having broken into the national side in the qualifying process for Euro 2000 and, although a broken hand meant he missed that tournament, he has kept goal for the Azzurri ever since. He will be their ‘keeper, 17 years after his debut, for this year’s European Championships in France.

Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Sweden will trot out in France to find Buffon’s powers have far from diminished with age and his outgoing national coach Antonio Conte can do worse than root through the country’s tactical history for the chapter entitled ‘Catenaccio’ and shield his goalkeeper with Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele Rugani and Giorgio Chiellini.

 

Breaking Rossi

That quadrant was included in the list of thankyous Buffon penned after breaking Sebastiano Rossi’s (playing for AC Milan back in 1994) Serie A record for minutes without conceding a goal by making it 974 minutes before local rivals Torino finally breached his net.

That was from a penalty, given to them by Alex Sandro’s reckless challenge, but not that it mattered for Juventus who romped home 1-4 to make it a stunning 19th win from their last 20 games.

Winning is something the Bianconeri have become accustomed to in recent times having won the last four Scudettos in succession, as well as last season’s Coppa Italia, and victory is virtually assured with their defensive combination; Bonucci, Chiellini and Barzagli have lost just 4 of the 63 league games they have started together as a trio.

The 21 year old Rugani is a newcomer having signed from Empoli last summer but he is maturing into an accomplished defender in such esteemed company.

As Buffon acknowledged in his letter, “because knowing how to listen is a rare quality”.

 

Team of fierce characters and winners

It is clear from reading through the goalkeeper’s classy prose of gratitude that this Juventus team is a cocktail of fierce characters, each contributing to a remarkably strong team-spirit, and Buffon is wise enough to know he has benefitted greatly from that.

There clearly exists a rock-solid understanding between the back 3 and in Patrice Evra and Sami Khedira, Massimiliano Allegri has signed two players who have done it all before and above all else, know how to win.

The togetherness and the collective experience and desire has helped Allegri to mould the squad into a winning machine, aiding his own assimilation into the club having not been received at all well when he was handed the chance to take over from Conte in 2014.

As Buffon calls him “the boss, a winner in pantheon of winners!”

Buffon has of course also won it all, apart from the European Cup-shaped vacancy on his mantelpiece which contains an incomprehensibly long list of individual awards, and he was the only choice as Allegri’s first-choice captain. The leader and the organiser with bags of experience, most importantly an inspiration to the players tasked with protecting his goal.

“I was luckier than you because my team-mates made sure that I faced very few shots on goal,” said Buffon, when talking to the former record-holder Rossi on TV post-match. “You had to earn it more, with superlative saves.”

 

A collective team effort

The stats read that Buffon had to make 33 saves across the near-11 matches he went without conceding and many will say only a superb save to deny Inter Milan’s Eder late in Juve’s 2-0 victory over the Nerazzurri was memorable, but to rank the record in terms of the goalkeeper’s validity would be to miss the point.

It has been a collective team effort in the art of defensive solidity and Buffon, an erstwhile influence of calmness and constantly assured at the age of 38, is the individual reaping the rewards.

As well as thanking his teammates, Buffon also thanked, in an open letter, the goal he defends, the one he chose to turn his back on when he was as young as 12.

“And I will keep doing it for as long as my legs, my head and my heart will allow”, he signed that off with, aiming to remain in goal at least until the 2018 World Cup.

You would be wise to predict that as long as Buffon, the Godfather of the famed goalkeepers union, remains between the sticks, defensive records will continue to tumble and trophies will continue to be lifted.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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