He’s Numero Uno — and that’s not just his jersey number.
Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon, who will start for Juventus when the most popular team in Italian club soccer comes to Hard Rock Stadium on Wednesday to play French side Paris Saint-German, is considered by many to be the best goalkeeper in the history of the sport.
If not the best, he’s certainly on most credible top-five lists.
Buffon, who will turn 40 in January, was at the peak of his powers in 2006, when he led Italy to a World Cup championship. Buffon produced five shutouts in seven matches in that World Cup. Of the two goals he allowed, one was on a penalty kick. The other was an own goal.
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These days, Buffon is not as spectacular as he was in his youth. But his positioning is nearly flawless, and, at 6-foot-3, he still covers a lot of ground quickly.
“Gigi Buffon still plays at a very high level,” said ESPN soccer analyst Alejandro Moreno. “He gives you a presence, a sense of security.”
Buffon, still the captain for Juventus, as well as Italy’s national team, was born in Tuscany, a product of an incredibly athletic family.
His mother was a discus thrower. His father was a weightlifter. His two sisters played for Italy’s national volleyball team, and his uncle played for Italy’s national basketball team.
Buffon started representing Italy at age 15 on the Azzurri’s U16 squad. Four year later, he was playing for the real deal, Italy’s national team.
That was just the start of a career that has included making five World Cup rosters, the past four as Italy’s starter.
His first pro team was Parma. But in 2001, Juventus acquired him for $37.8 million, a record transfer fee at the time.
It’s been a great investment as he has led Juventus to eight Serie A titles, including a current streak of six in a row. Buffon has also been named the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a record 11 times.
“His career has been remarkable — the game seems to slow down for him, which has made him an incredible shot-stopper,” FIU men’s soccer goalkeeper coach Ben Mallue said.
“And, clearly, he has taken care of his body in a professional way to have lasted this long.”
Buffon has long been a mix of style and substance.
Where most goalies wear long-sleeve jerseys, Buffon usually rocks the short-sleeve look.
Once in goal, Buffon is known to play deep, giving him that extra split-second of reaction time.
He’s always been abundantly vocal in the way he organizes his defense and courageous about the way he throws himself in the middle of potentially dangerous collisions in an effort to clear the ball.
Strength, reflexes, agility, anticipation and concentration — all the attributes are there and have been in his long and distinguished career.
Moreno said Buffon’s presence takes pressure off his teammates, knowing that he is back there to erase their mistakes.
“He’s an outstanding talent who has delivered time and time again,” Moreno said. “I think his legacy goes beyond making saves. There’s a strength of character to Gigi Buffon and a leadership quality. He’s been showing that for 20 years now.”
Miami Herald sports writer Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.