Forget Messi and Ronaldo, cherish Gianluigi Buffon while he’s still going
It was only natural that the headlines were dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as Barcelona took on Juventus, but it was Gianluigi Buffon that stole the show.
Far and away the top scorers in the Champions League and La Liga, for Real Madrid and Barcelona, for Portugal and Argentina, it’s fair to say that Ronaldo and Messi are worthy of our attention. It might be the last time they shared a pitch. Who knows? They’re 33 and 35 respectively.
Sometimes their indisputable dominance can draw the focus away from some of their truly wonderful team-mates.
Ronaldo might have scored two penalties in their 3-0 win, and Messi looked like he had his zeal back as he buzzed around trying to get his side back into the contest, but Buffon was the real star with a number of fine saves.
7 – Barcelona’s Lionel Messi 🇦🇷 has had seven shots on target against Juventus (11 in total), more than any other player in a Champions League game without scoring since at least 2003/04. Tireless. pic.twitter.com/QGaAbe0sz2
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 8, 2020
Home of the Eternal City, the greats of Serie A must have access to a fountain of youth hidden away. Think of Francesco Totti, 40, waving goodbye after 24 years at the Stadio Olimpico, Paolo Maldini lasting 25 years at Milan, Antonio Di Natale scoring 162 of his 209 league goals after turning 30.
The season before last a 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella won the Capocannoniere award for Serie A’s top scorer. Who’s top of the goalscoring charts in 2020-21? A 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It’s admittedly more natural for a goalkeeper to last longer, but at the age of 42, Buffon is quite frankly taking the piss. He’s 18 months older than his own manager, Andrea Pirlo.
Four members of Barcelona’s starting XI weren’t even born when he made his debut in the Champions League, for Parma back in 1997.
Yet here he was, rocking up at the Camp Nou, still searching for that elusive first Champions League. Finishing as a runner-up on three occasions seems to have sharpened his focus. You can imagine he’ll still be standing between the sticks at the age of 60 if the Old Lady are still kept waiting for it.
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His singlemindedness was palpable at the Camp Nou, playing a vital role in a 3-0 away win that saw Juventus leapfrog the Catalans and finish group leaders, and thus with the theoretically easier Round of 16 draw.
This was a man that was not going to let Barcelona past. Or really rather Messi, as the game descended into something of a duel between Buffon and the Argentinian, who registered all seven of Barcelona’s shots on target, three more than Juventus managed collectively.
But every single time Buffon was in the way. This was a contest between two of the game’s greats and it was the Italian who didn’t blink.
Barcelona had come top of their Champions League group for each of the last 13 seasons. They were unbeaten in their last 38 European matches on home soil. Juventus’ 42-year-old goalkeeper had other ideas.
“I didn’t play Buffon because he’s my friend, but because he’s still one of the best,” Pirlo said post-match. “When I heard people say he shouldn’t play, it made me laugh!”
The two played hundreds of matches alongside one another for club and country. Buffon had his back on countless occasions during Pirlo’s playing career, and now too as a fledgeling coach.
You could see what it meant to Buffon after the final whistle, celebrating the win and the clean sheet with wild-eyed intensity along with Leonardo Bonucci.
Messi soon sought him out to trade shirts. A mark of respect worthy of one of the game’s true greats.