Italy Should Keep Gianluigi Buffon as Keeper and Captain Through Euro 2016

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

Gianluigi Buffon is still the best available option in goal.
Gianluigi Buffon is still the best available option in goal.Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Last week, my Bleacher Report colleague Anthony Lopopolo published a list of five players Italy should drop heading into qualification for Euro 2016.  Among those players was goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon.

The argument had less to do with ineffectiveness on Buffon's part and more with the fact that it may simply be time for the guard to change.  No. 2 keeper Salvatore Sirigu proved in the opener against England that he can handle high-profile international duty.  Buffon is 36 years old, and injuries have always been a part of his career.  It may just be time.

It's not the worst of arguments.  I, however, believe that the argument for keeping Buffon around is stronger.

The first thing to think about when considering Buffon's future is that he can still play.  He was strong in the two games he did play in the World Cup. recorded that over his first two starts he was successful on 100 percent of his punch attempts and on 90 percent of his distribution efforts from the box.  Indeed, he only misfired on six passes in the entire tournament.

A look at game tape for Juventus over the last three years shows just how well Buffon's game has held up.  Add to that the one major unmeasurable that has always separated him from his peers—his unparalleled ability to keep the defense in front of him organized—and it's clear that he's still one of the best goalkeepers in the game and more than worthy of Italy's No. 1 shirt.

Also to be considered is the fact that Sirigu is not the lone representative of Italy's future between the sticks.

If he were, making the transition to him now would be the smart move.  Unfortunately for Sirigu, one of the most promising goalkeeping generations in Italian history is coming up in his rear-view mirror.

Simone Scuffet, Nicola Leali, Francesco Bardi and Mattia Perin all have the potential to be Italy's starter once they've fully developed.

Bardi has been capped at the U21 level 26 times and was the starter for the Azzurrini at the U21 European Championships in Israel last summer.  

Scuffet broke out at Udinese this season after keeping six clean sheets in 16 games as an 18-year-old.

Leali's performance at Brescia in 2012 provoked a bidding war that was won by Juventus, who currently intend for him to replace Buffon when he hangs up his gloves at Vinovo.

Perin has dazzled the last few years at Pescara and with parent club Genoa, attracting the interest of clubs like Arsenal and Italian giants AC Milan.  He was rewarded for his excellence with a place on the World Cup roster.  His first cap is only a matter of time—and if he keeps progressing, the No. 1 shirt will likely follow.

It is sad that Sirigu, who will be 31 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, may get caught between a long-lasting legend ahead and a promising youth movement behind.  The Sardinian has been at PSG since 2011.  

The French champions are flush with cash, and if they thought they could spend to get a better keeper, they would.  The fact that he's still the starter there speaks volumes about how highly he's regarded.

But unless injuries or an abrupt visit from Father Time intervene between now and the Euros in France, Buffon remains Italy's best option.  He is still in top physical shape.  The intangibles he brings to the table are immense.  

On the field his ability to organize his defense plays a huge role in the team's success.  Off the field his experience and leadership as captain will be valuable to a team that will soon be transitioning to a younger generation.  

On the whole Italian goalkeepers just tend to age well—just look at Buffon's fellow Juve legend Dino Zoff.

Sirigu is by no means unworthy, but Buffon is still one of the best in the world.  Until something changes, Italy is still best served with him in goal.