After dedicating 17 years of his life to safeguard Juventus’ goal, Gianluigi Buffon bowed out last Sunday after his side saw off Verona. It was, indeed a befitting send-off as he received tons of tributes prior to kick-off, a guard of honor while being substituted in the 63rd minute and finally featured in a bus parade through the streets of Turin to celebrate Juventus’ title wins this season.
Having joined the Old Ladies from Parma in a record 52 million euros transfer back in 2001, Buffon has been nothing short of a lynchpin in the Bianconeri’s success story. He’s been a shield against enemies, a firewall against invaders and a magnetic force ever repelling balls out of their nets.
Even amid Juve’s demotion to Serie B in 2006, the World Cup winner’s loyalty remained unshaken as he fulfilled his vow to protect, guard and guide the men in black and white back to the first division. Buffon’s career with the Serie A champions was, of course, laden with every accolade there is to win in Italy.
Of the 17 seasons he enjoyed at the Turin club, he featured in 656 matches across all competitions, kept 310 clean sheets and won 19 trophies – including a record nine Scudetto. A tall list of records also exists with the name of Juventus’ goal post guardian.
Meeting Cristiano Ronaldo
Despite amassing all the major accolades there was in Italy, Buffon never experienced the joy of winning a continental trophy with Juventus. In fairness, it wasn’t due to the lack of trying. His side has featured in three finals since 2003 in which they suffered defeats in all.
Fate and ill-fortune? Maybe.
Nevertheless, one certified reason was the unfortunate scenario of frequently encountering a Real Madrid side whose attack was marshaled by the lethal Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward, in recent years, has been the architect of crushing Buffon’s dearest dream of lifting the Champions League trophy in a host of major instances.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner scored thrice against the veteran goalkeeper at the group stages in Real Madrid’s campaign La Decima back in the 2013/2014 season. Ronaldo was again on the scoresheet at home and away against Buffon when their respective sides met in the 2015 semi-final although the latter’s team advanced to the final only to fall to Barcelona.
The misery continued again in the subsequent season, this time, on the biggest stage itself. How can one possibly forget Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly grabbing the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final in Cardiff by the scruff of its neck and handing it over to Real Madrid with a magnificent brace?
He made Buffon cry. Yes, he did that. His exploits in Wales earned him a fourth-career Ballon d’Or – an honor which Italian shot-stopper was tipped to win had he fired Juventus to the European trophy.
The misery finally reached its threshold when Juventus were once again paired with Real Madrid to feature against Juventus in the quarter-final of the 2017/2018 UEFA Champions League. Should we get started on THAT over-kick by Cristiano Ronaldo inside the Allianz Stadium which earned Real Madrid a 3-0 away win as well as the former a historic standing ovation?
How about that soul-crushing late penalty at the Santiago Bernabeu which he buried past Buffon’s deputy Wojciech Szczęsny after the Bianconeri No. 1 was sent off for a heated bust-up he had with Referee Michael Oliver? The fact that for weeks the 40-year-old goalkeeper criticized the turn of event which denied his side the opportunity to force the game into extra-time tells enough of that story.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates, on the other hand, await Liverpool in the final as they aim to seal a historic third successive European title after progressing to the final at the expense of Bayern Munich. Summing up the numbers of the 33-year-old talisman in all the seven games he’s featured in against the Italian shot-stopper, his goal tally now stands at 10 – signifying a 1.43 goal per game ratio.
Although Buffon has sealed his legendary status in the history of the sport and stands tall as one of the finest football players in this era, the sting of Ronaldo’s boot will forever leave a squeamish scar on his glittering career.