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Gigi Buffon: Return of the Gladiator

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Gigi Buffon: Return of the Gladiator

To succeed at top-flight European football a team must be built around a strong, smart and confident goalkeeper. A tactical field general, that has exceptional hand-eye coordination and great decision making abilities. Juventus boast one of the best; goal guardian Gianluigi "Gigi" Buffon.

At a crucial point in the season and after a long injury layoff, Buffon is scheduled to return to the pitch this week. With Juventus pushing for their 28th Scudetto and preparing for next month's Champions League clash with Chelsea, his return could not have come at a better time.

Buffon has a great set of hands and seems to gobble up most shots. Combine that with his large body frame, quick feet and brilliant ability and positioning himself and his team in front of the goal and arguably you have the best goalkeeper in the world.

In fact, the International Federation of Football History and Statistics recently named Buffon as the best goal keeper of all time. According to the latest IFFHS study, Buffon beat out former Manchester United keeper Peter Schmeichel and Spanish stopper Iker Casillas finished third.

While growing up in the Tuscany region of Italy, Buffon was primarily a midfield player, but eventually he lost the will to run and he changed to goalkeeper. This would end up being one of the best decisions he ever made.

Parma discovered Buffon in 1991, he was 13 and playing for his school team, Canaletto. He joined the Parma youth team and rose through the ranks rapidly. Buffon made his Serie A debut with the club in 1995 at the young age of 17. The keeper went on to make 168 appearances and win the 1999 UEFA Cup with Parma.

Buffon joined Juventus in 2001 after transferring from Parma for £36 million, the largest ever transfer fee for a goalkeeper. These days on the open market Buffon could fetch a pretty penny. Recently rumors circulated that Manchester City were ready to splash the cash with a £100 million bid for the keeper.

Playing for a big club like Juventus, Buffon started to gain worldwide attention. In 2003 he was named UEFA's goalkeeper of the year and Champion's League most valuable player.

In 2004 Buffon was named to the "FIFA 100," a list compiled by Brazilian great Pele, of the 125 greatest living football players. The list was made for FIFA's 100th anniversary and consisted of 75 retired and 50 active players. The lanky Italian has also been named the Serie A goalie of the year seven times and holds countless other awards, titles, and records.

The Calciopoli scandal hit Juventus in 2006 and forced the team to be regulated to Serie B. This caused several players to jump ship for other top flight clubs. Buffon was not scared off and along with Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Mauro Camoranesi, and Pavel Nedved, Juventus won the Serie B title and were back in Serie A the next season.

The Italian World Cup winning keeper earned his first cap for Italy in 1998. He has gone on to a legendary international career and is not showing any signs of slowing down.

At the 2006 World Cup he allowed only two goals, had a 453-minute scoreless streak and kept five clean sheets. The only goals allowed were a teammate's own goal vs the United States and a Zinedine Zindane penalty kick in the final against France. He currently has 89 caps and was handed the captain's armband for the Azzurri.

With the talent to frustrate and deny the most skilled of goal-seeking strikers, Buffon is the heart and soul of Juventus and the Italian national team. His presence in goal sparks team confidence and drastically improves the chances of a victory.

The eccentric goalkeeper has been missing from the Juventus lineup since late September with a serious muscle injury in his leg. He returns to the Turin Giants, who are in second place and trailing Inter Milan by only three points. The keeper is expected to be in the lineup Saturday against Fiorentina.

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