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Becoming Gianluigi Buffon

Due to his longevity and consistency, “Gigi” Buffon is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of all time. Still going strong at 42 years of age, his illustrious 25-year career has seen him lift a World Cup and amass an impressive collection of numerous league titles, but had it not been for a Cameroonian goalkeeper, Buffon might have never reached such dizzying heights.

Destined for Success

From an early age, it was obvious that the boy from Carrara, Tuscany, (population 63 thousand) would go on to achieve international greatness. Born into a family obsessed with sports, young Gigi soon found himself running around on the football pitch. His physique and technical ability made Buffon an ideal midfield enforcer, and word quickly spread that Gigi’s club, Perticata, had a special talent on their hands.

Change of Heart

Soon, bigger clubs came calling, and even the mighty Inter got wind of Buffon’s development, but Gigi wasn’t interested in being a midfielder anymore. He wanted to be a goalkeeper.

After watching the exploits of Thomas N’Kono in 1987, when his Espanyol side dumped Milan out of the UEFA Cup, Buffon became enamored with the goalkeeping position. During the memorable Italia ’90 World Cup, Gigi’s newfound love turned into an obsession.

Thomas N’Kono impressed between the sticks as the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon reached the quarterfinals, only to be controversially knocked out by England. Buffon was glued to the TV every time N’Kono and his teammates took to the pitch, and the Italian wanted to emulate his idol.

Breakthrough

It wasn’t an easy transition for Buffon, especially since all his admirers wanted Gigi the midfielder and not Gigi the goalkeeper, but he soon found a new home at Bonascola. Thanks to his natural talent and work ethic, he quickly adapted to his new position and, after less than a year, joined the youth system of Serie A side Parma at just 13.

After four years of learning and developing at the Maria Luigia boarding school, Gigi was thrust into the spotlight. On November 19, 1995, at the tender age of 17, Buffon made his professional debut against none other than Fabio Capello’s imperious AC Milan.

He was incredible. Not fazed one bit, Buffon made saves on Ballon d’Or winners Roberto Baggio and George Weah, keeping a clean sheet and earning the nickname “Superman” in the process.

Since his debut, Gigi has gone from strength to strength, and in 2001 he left Parma to sign for Juventus. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

Illustration by @inakivector.

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