5 Potential Heirs to Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon has once again enjoyed a stellar season, captaining Juventus to a third consecutive league title for only the second time in club history. The goalkeeper is undoubtedly among the best in the world, revered by his peers and envied by supporters of almost every other side.
He will head to the World Cup in Brazil with no fewer than 18 clean sheets to his name, a remarkable return from his 32 Serie A appearances this term. Yet the tournament may well prove to be the last one for the 36-year-old, despite the protests of his agent Silvano Martina last year.
He told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t ESPN) that Buffon’s high fitness level and professionalism meant “he could make it to 40 and play at the World Cup in 2018!” The player knows he is in the twilight of his career, however, candidly discussing his age in an interview with FIFA.com in May 2013. He said:
Time stops for no man. I made my debut when I was 17 and now I’m 35. I can’t stop the clock from ticking, but I’m very much at peace with myself and I’m not worried about it. The future belongs to the youngsters and I’m just trying to pass on the experience I’ve acquired over the years.
With that view in mind, over the following pages are five youngsters who could eventually prove to be the heir to Italy’s most-capped player of all time.
The easy option: Salvatore Sirigu
Already a mainstay of the Italy squad and part of the talent-laden crew at Paris Saint-Germain, Salvatore Sirigu is the most obvious choice to fill the void by Gigi Buffon’s eventual retirement. The 27-year-old cost the French club just €3.5 million back in 2011, a transfer fee he has repaid with some excellent performances.
Buffon’s continued presence has held him to just seven international appearances, but he has impressed this term, keeping 19 clean sheets in 27 matches.
The in-house solution: Nicola Leali
Owned by Juventus, but sent out on loan, Nicola Leali was tipped as a youngster who could help the Bianconeri next term here. Recognised as a future star after two excellent seasons with Brescia, he has slowly begun to mature into a definite prospect during spells with Lanciano and Spezia.
In the enemy camp: Francesco Bardi
The rivalry between Juventus and Inter is well-known, but Francesco Bardi could well be Italy’s next great goalkeeper. Preferred to Leali at under-21 level, his form was a huge factor in the team finishing as runners-up in last summer’s European Championships.
Sent on loan to Livorno this term, the 22-year-old has amassed a surprising 107 first team appearances over the past five seasons. With Italian football’s natural scepticism of young players, that number perhaps highlights Bardi’s quality far better than his three clean sheets in 2013-14.
A potential great: Mattia Perin
Called up by Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, 21-year-old Mattia Perin is perhaps the most talented prospect currently playing in the Italian top flight. After spending 2012-13 struggling behind Pescara’s leaking defence, this year has been a breakout campaign for the young goalkeeper.
Despite keeping 10 clean sheets, he has been kept very busy by the poor Genoa backline, with his 135 saves topped only by Rafael of Hellas, according to stats on the Fox Soccer website. Well respected across the peninsula, his agent Matteo Roggi said in an interview with Radio Mana Sport (h/t ForzaItaliaFootball) that Perin “could become the new Milan goalkeeper.”
He could also be the long-term heir to Buffon’s throne.
The man of the moment: Simone Scuffet
There is perhaps no goalkeeper discussed in more glowing terms on the peninsula than Udinese’s Simone Scuffet. The 17-year-old made his debut as recently as February, thrown into the starting line-up after first-choice Zeljko Brkic was injured in the warm up.
He would keep a clean sheet in a 2-0 win, which prompted praise from almost every corner, and Juventus have clearly been paying attention. Director General Beppe Marotta told Sky Italia (h/t FourFourTwo) that Scuffet “has all the requirements to do something important in the game.”
The player himself believes he does not have far to look for inspiration, discussing his emergence in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport back in March. After praising his current club, the goalkeeper continued, saying of the Bianconeri legend (via FootballItalia):
It would be wonderful and a dream to follow Buffon’s footsteps. How marvellous it would be to win what he has for Juventus and with the Italy shirt.
Simone Scuffet could be the man to do just that.