Gianluigi Buffon: 'It’s important to get things wrong in life – and pay the price'
The Juventus goalkeeper tells Nicky Bandini what makes him happy and talks about his long career and suddenly calling his friend Andrea Pirlo ‘Mister’
Photograph: Alberto Gandolfo/Pacific/Sipa/Rex/ShutterstockGianluigi Buffon is back at Juventus, where he plays alongside Federico Chiesa, the son of his former Parma teammate Enrico.Photograph: Alberto Gandolfo/Pacific/Sipa/Rex/ShutterstockThe Juventus goalkeeper on what makes him happy, his long career and suddenly calling his friend Andrea Pirlo ‘Mister’
Wed 3 Mar 2021 08.00 GMTIt has become a little hard to trust Gianluigi Buffon when he talks about retirement. In 2017, he told me he had reached a decision to hang up his gloves at the end of the season – his 17th as aJuventusplayer. Reminded of the fear he once felt at the prospect of a life without football, he said that there remained “almost none”.
A year later, we were in France, discussing his surprise move to Paris Saint-Germain. What could he say? The offer had come out of nowhere, a chance for one more adventure: to experience a new culture, to play with Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, to write one last spectacular chapter. headtopics.com
Read moreToday, the 43-year-old Buffon is back at Juventus, testing the bass limits of my laptop’s speakers as he booms out that irrepressible laugh on a Zoom call from Turin. “Look, in my head, there truly is a final stop sign, a maximum bar, which is June 2023,” he insists. “That is the maximum, really, really the maximum. But I could also stop playing in four months.”
Perhaps. Buffon’s contract at Juventus runs only to this summer, but it would be a surprise if no extension were to arrive. Beyond that, let’s just note that Buffon prefaced all those “maximums” with an acknowledgement: “I’ve learned nothing is certain in life.”
It is a truth brought home sharply by events of the past year. Italy was the first European country struck by the coronavirus pandemic last spring. In a matter of days, a nation went from business as normal to a full national lockdown.“Look, I have to be honest, for me the first month of lockdown was really beautiful,” Buffon says, a rare hint of sheepishness in his voice. “At first, the pandemic allowed me to have time to dedicate to myself. That’s something that hadn’t happened to me in my whole life.
Gianluigi Buffon in action last month, saving a header from Romelu Lukaku of Inter.Photograph: Daniele Badolato/Juventus FC/Getty Images“I got to stay with my wife, my kids all day long. To be able to dedicate myself to my hobbies, to my reading, to my things. It was a beautiful time that I never thought I would have, and I took full advantage and I loved it. Then, of course, as time goes, it becomes heavy. You think more and more about what others are going through.” headtopics.com
He is very aware of the blessings that made his lockdown more comfortable, hastening to point out that staying home is a different reality when you live in a big house with a garden, compared to a crowded apartment.Money, though, is also not a cure-all. Buffon has spoken with admirable openness about his struggle with depression in his mid-20s: a time when wealth and footballing prizes came easily but could not fill up what he described as a “black hole of the soul”. Opening his eyes to worlds outside of his own, starting with an unplanned visit to an art exhibit, was what helped him to find a way through.
“I think the thing that really allows you to stay well is an existential happiness,” he says. “Feeling within yourself that you are a happy person for what you have done, what you are doing, what you are becoming … When I read a book or watch a film and take something from it, I feel better. If I gain some new understanding, that’s what makes me feel good.
“I’m a person who really doesn’t need anything when I’m home with my wife and my kids. We talk about everything, and I have time to dedicate to taking on information, seeing new curiosities. I feel like a person who continues to grow. I don’t know whether I’m getting better or worse. I hope better! But doing this makes me feel good.”
If life at home is so enriching, then why has Buffon found it so hard to leave football behind? He has played professionally for 26 years: long enough that he now plays alongside Federico Chiesa, the son of his former Parma teammate Enrico.The simplest answer is that Buffon believes he still has something to offer. He is no avid follower of American football but it did not escape his attention that Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl this year at 43. headtopics.com
When I mess up in a game, honestly, I feel so uncomfortable. Just totally distraught“They say that when you reach my age, the decline happens all at once – from one moment to the next. I don’t believe this. I feel what I feel, and the sensations I have within myself don’t make me think there is going to be some sudden collapse.
“I am also someone who believes very strongly in fate, in destiny. When Juventus offered me the chance to come back, I thought: ‘Madonna!You never know, maybe there’s a reason, something I’m meant to go back there for. One last great story to write. So I have to be honest, there is also a part of this that comes down to that bit of ego all of us have.”
Buffon making his debut for Italy in 1997, a World Cup Qualifier against Russia in Moscow.Photograph: Alessandro Sabattini/Getty ImagesHis last great objective in football, and on this he has been consistent ever since we first met, is to play in a Club World Cup. Entry to that tournament, for European teams, requires winning the Champions League, the one major piece of silverware that has eluded him.
It is the journey that excites him, though, more than any destination. Buffon has confessed before to feeling a certain disconnect from his own achievements after they are reached. He was happy to see how Italy’s World Cup in 2006 brought the country together, but his own highest high came during the final itself, against France, sharing moments of exquisite tension with teammates who had worked for a lifetime to be there.
Among them was Andrea Pirlo, now his manager at Juventus. They had represented their country together since the under-15s. “My friendship with Pirlo goes a long way back,” says Buffon. “In practice, me, him and [Gennaro] Gattuso knew each other going back to 1993 … When you have the fortune and the ability to share a journey like winning the World Cup, I really believe that sealed our relationship. Not our friendship. You don’t judge a friendship by winning World Cups, but it sealed a bond. It gave us a shared understanding that can never be broken.”
When Pirlo later joined Juventus as a player, Buffon recalled watching him train and thinking: “God exists.” When Pirlo was announced as Juventus manager this summer, his reaction was different. “So do I have to call you Read more: The Guardian »
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General life skills & education that gets us through life. Attempted murder, physical violence, verbal abuse against people is very bad communication in business, customer service. Enforcement with law is reasonable 😊 Peoples habits & attitudes with religion can be very evil😥 That's good then because I get shit wrong daily
88 I get what he means, but whenever people say that kind of thing I think: yes, missing a goal or whatever is one thing but there are some jobs where mistakes are devastating and the consequences last a lifetime. People live in fear of making that kind of mistake. Seems like a nice fella! Like when you are a nazi, Gigi?
Make mistakes and learn from them ❣️ Does he mean like scoring some dodgy crack or horse ? I never get things wrong because I don't act for another's aims, goals and wants. Systems get things wrong, especially in relation to myself