Very few players have enjoyed careers as long or as decorated as Gigi Buffon. The Juventus captain is currently enjoying his 21st season as a professional. He has played 770 games for the Bianconeri and former club Parma, while making a record 151 appearances for the Italian national team over that same period.
Making his debut with Parma as a 17-year-old, Buffon would win the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia with the Ducali, he would impress enough to convince the Turin giants to spend almost €52 million to bring him to the club.
That remains both Juve’s record signing and the highest fee ever paid for a goalkeeper, yet he has proven to be worth every cent. Winning no fewer than eight Serie A championships—two of which were later revoked as part of the Calciopoli punishments—as well as the 2007 Serie B title, last season’s Coppa Italia and two Champions League runners-up medals.
Also lifting the 2006 World Cup with the Azzurri, Buffon has been named Serie A goalkeeper of the year on nine occasions, while being declared the best goalkeeper of the 21st Century by the IFFHS, per Football Italia.
Almost 20 years after his breakthrough, it is difficult to know just how long Buffon has left at the highest level, but he told a press conference back in April (h/t Brian Homewood of Reuters) that he has no immediate plans to retire:
A player stops when he feels that he is no longer what he was before on the pitch. Looking at it objectively, that is not my case. I will continue to keep playing as long as I am doing well, otherwise it would be a waste.
Why bid farewell to football if you are playing well? At the first sign of slipping, I would be the first to bow out. I think one should stop playing when goes onto the field and you see that you are no longer the same person.
Called “a great player and a great professional,” by Juventus general director Beppe Marotta last year (h/t Football Italia), Buffon was handed a new contract by the Bianconeri at around the same time. The deal will run until June 2017, according to the club’s official website. This prompted questions and speculation about whether it could be his final extension.
“The fact that it could very well be my last contract was a factor, but I’m not worried about that,” Buffon told reporters at a subsequent press conference. “I feel energised. I want to continue performing to a high level, so that I can be an asset and a point of reference for the club.”
He has done just that already this term, playing a vital role as Juventus struggled through the early part of 2015/16. Particularly effective with a string of saves during September’s Champions League victory over Manchester City, his coach would single him out for praise shortly after the final whistle.
“I hope he will go on for as long as possible, certainly as long as I am manager," Massimiliano Allegri said at his post-match press conference per Richard Jolly of ESPN FC. “Buffon is someone who is extraordinary goalkeeper, perhaps the best ever in the history of football. He never fails.”
Despite now being a 37-year-old veteran, that is certainly true, and it would be no surprise to see a one-year extension being added to that Juventus contract before too long. That would allow Buffon to play in the 2018 World Cup, which would be a fitting way for the Italian legend to call time on a truly historic career.