To put Gianluigi Buffon’s career in perspective, he’s outlasted the club where it all started, back in November 1995.
The goalkeeper has made more than 1,000 career appearance- a feat that he accomplished for Italy against Albania.
Of those 1,000 games, 612 came for Juventus, 220 for the now defunct and re-branded Parma and 167 for the Italian national team.
But where did it all begin?
Well, mio amico, Buffon’s first appearance came for Parma against the mighty AC Milan side of 1995.
Ruled by the iron fist of Fabio Capello and marshalled at the back by Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Franco Baresi, Milan were a daunting proposition.
But it was up front where Milan really excelled, thanks to the talents of Ballon d’Or winner George Weah, Italian demi-god Roberto Baggio and Croatian playmaker Zvonimir Boban.
Hardly an ideal team against which to blood a 17-year-old who, only four years earlier, had been excelling in Parma’s academy as an outfield player.
But needs must and Parma, who boasted Fabio Cannavaro, Hristo Stoichkov and Gianfranco Zola among their ranks, were no mugs.
The 28,000-capacity Stadio Ennio Tardini bore witness to one of the greatest debuts in modern footballing history- especially when it comes to goalkeepers.
Time and time again Buffon displayed maturity belying his lack of experience.
His first act was to pluck a hanging back-post cross out of the sky, his second to gather a Weah shot after he’d slinked past several Parma defenders.
He smothered Baggio on two occasions, getting out quickly at his feet and then bravely nipping in to pinch the ball off his head.
Baggio was withdrawn, frustrated, for Marco Simone with 12 minutes left to play.
But Buffon still had to be at this best, displaying lighting reflexes to keep out a close range shot before bravely getting down at the feet of Weah, injuring both parties.
The game finished goalless but at the final whistle there was no doubt who the star of the show was.
Milan would go on the win Serie A that season, while Parma would only finish sixth, with Buffon making eight more appearances.
By the next campaign he was Parma’s number one, five-years later he signed for Juventus, starting a 17-season love affair.
Any honour- domestic, European or world- he hasn’t won probably isn’t worth winning, although the 39-year-old hasn’t managed to get his hands on the Champions League yet.
Buffon’s impending retirement will be an emotional farewell.
We can not thank you enough, Gigi.
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