Gianluigi Buffon Talks Retirement, The State of Italian Soccer, World Cup and More | Piqué+


Gigi, thanks
for meeting me at the training ground
here in Turin. I read a lot about you. I read
your parents and sisters are all athletes too. Yes. I come
from a family of athletes. I always knew
sport was my future since I was a kid. Mum and Dad were both national level athletes. My sisters played volleyball
in the 1st division. One even won the volleyball
Champions League, unlike me. I was the only one left. As the youngest
in a family of famous
professional athletes, I wanted to prove
my abilities and show them
I could also make it. I was lucky to get into football
and become a goalie. What’s your first
football memory as a child? My first memory? I think I was four. The ’82 World Cup
that Italy won. I wasn’t even born! I was too small to understand
the World Cup, but I remember seeing
all the grown-ups gathered around the TV, excitedly cheering Italy on. I was playing
football outside and realised I enjoyed
playing with the ball. I spent the afternoons
playing football and listening to them shouting in joy
or in despair with the national team. You started in Parma playing your first match
at 17 against Milan and did not let
a single goal in. Yes. A goalkeeper’s dream. Yes. How did it feel
to start so young for such an important team
as Parma, one of the best teams in Italy
at that time? In the mid-90’s,
for around 10 years, Parma was
one of the best in Europe. In 10 years they won
the UEFA Cup twice, an Italian Cup
and a UEFA Super Cup… It was a team
of the highest level. It was an important match. We were league leaders
drawing on points with Milan, who had
some great champions: Baggio, Weah, Savićević, Maldini… I was barely 17
and I had to play. In the morning
I was told I was playing and I’m proud to say I was not afraid. I remember at that moment
I was really happy because it was my chance
to show the world who Buffon was,
and that he was good goalie. I remember joy beat fear
before a crucial match. Then at 19 you were capped
for Italy’s national team. You went to Russia. It was the fifth
or the sixth time coach Maldini chose me but I hadn’t played before
as other goalkeepers such as Peruzzi or Pagliuca
deserved it more. It was the qualifiers for the French World Cup, We were playing
Russia in Moscow. In the 25th minute Pagliuca got a knock
on the knee and he asked
to be taken out. I was an enthusiastic kid, I feared nothing, but when I saw I was on I was not so glad as the pitch
was covered in snow. It was
such an important match to enable Italy to qualify. I started to warm up and was on in 2 minutes. Once on the pitch
I concentrated hard. Fear left me and I concentrated hard
for an hour. Five minutes after I came on,
Russia had a great chance to score and I made a great save from my left which helped me
really get into the match. You’ll go down in history as one
who has played in 5 World Cups. Only three people have done this:
you, Matthäus and… Yes.
And a Mexican. A Mexican goalkeeper. How do you feel? Good. Proud. It’s a long haul. It takes a lot to be
continuously up to scratch. Is it a lot of work? You need talent
but also effort, to be able to suffer as you do sometimes. It is gratifying, as only a few of us have played
in five World Cups. It was great to play
two in Europe, one in Africa,
and one in America. I hadn’t realised! I’ve played
on every continent. It would have been special to play in a 6th World Cup, but sometimes
you have to be content. I didn’t have the courage
to play in a 6th World Cup. In your time
playing for Italy, winning the German World Cup
in 2006 must have been the best. What do you remember
about it? How did you feel? The way we experienced the final
of the German World Cup was special for the Italians,
apart from the victory. There are lots
of Italian immigrants who made us feel like we were playing
at home. I remember
a lot of happiness, partying, emotional support. We never felt alone. I have
two magnificent memories, the semi-final
against Germany in Dortmund. 2-0. 2-0, but one of the most
nerve-racking moments of my life. When I think about it,
I feel bad. How can anybody bear such tension and emotion? Against Germany
it was terrible. Then winning 2-0
in extra time… When we got
to the hotel at 5 a.m. there were 10,000 people waiting.
Incredible. The special thing was
that after beating Germany we were calm, as though
we’d already won the World Cup. It was crazy. It’s not easy
to get to the final and celebrate as though
you’ve won the World Cup. Yea, that’s the worst! It was madness. Twelve years later I look at France and can see
how strong they were. We thought we’d won but we had to play
a really strong team. A team that makes you think
you can beat them gives you the enthusiasm, the strength to beat
any opponent. We were on a streak: we feared no one and thought
we could beat anyone. Surprisingly,
I was less nervous for the final
against France. I slept 6 or 7 hours before the match
against Germany and only 2
before playing France. I remember the discomfort because
of the strong emotions that are hard to take in, so it is hard to rest. It’s not easy. I clearly remember
that after our victory we were able
to feel happy because we had placed
so much energy and emotion on the sacrificial altar, so as to speak. The joy of winning
the World Cup came long after
our victory. Then there was South Africa 2010
and Brazil 2014 when Italy didn’t do well, and you didn’t qualify
for 2018. Do you think Calcio,
Italian football, needs to reassess and look for different solutions
to return to the top? I think… something’s wrong. I can’t believe Italy is not producing talent like before. When I joined
the national team there was Baggio, Del Piero,
Totti, Inzaghi, Montella, Vieri… Great talented players. In the last 10 years Italy has a good team, we’re not a bad team at all but without the talented players
we used to have. Without a certain
class of players it is difficult
to get results, victories. Pride and the sense
of belonging have improved
over these 10 years. We have had
a poor record but we did get
to the European finals in 2012, a good presence in 2016 as our pride
helps us do more than we could hope for. Do you think Serie A, in competition terms, is a bit below, say, the Premier League
or La Liga, and that Juventus is the only Champions League team
that could win it? Maybe… It might be true. But I also think there are teams
and national teams, like France, who always had
players abroad. Spain too, they always had
plenty of players abroad… Our problem
is not the competition, but an individual one,
especially for the players. Lack of talent? Yes, Serie A
might be lower level, but if you continue
to produce good players they’ll go off to play
for Paris Saint-Germain or Madrid. The national team
stays high level. However, except Verratti,
who plays in Paris Saint-Germain, we don’t have players,
except Juventus, who play
for the great teams in Europe. That’s the issue. A turning point
in your career, talking about Juventus, is when you were downgraded
to Serie B, but you decided
to stay with the club. It looked like you stayed
in Juventus out of love, and it was also
a huge risk. You could have chosen
other clubs and competed to win
the Champions League, yet you chose to stay
and play Serie B. How was it to stay in Serie B?
Was it the right decision? When I decided
to stay in Serie B, I was glad to do so because I think
there are some men, some players, who have the opportunity to give the sport
some hope through their decisions, for the public,
for the fans. It was a time
when somebody like me needed to send a message: that players
have feelings too and there is more to life than popularity and money… I would do it again. Then we won Serie B, it was a fun year. And after two good years
being 2nd or 3rd came 2 or 3 very bad years when Juventus
was unrecognisable, we lost our spirit,
our identity, our work ethic… Some years
we finished 6th or 7th and I said to myself,
“Why on Earth did I choose this?” But I said that quietly because I’m usually
a positive person. An optimist. I am sure that hard work
and good behaviour always do the trick. I’ve always said so. Six years later when I wore
the “Championship Shield” again I was so happy. It was a tough choice.
Six very rough years. When you are used
to winning, 6 years not playing much
in the Champions League, I didn’t get to play much
in European competitions. With a bit of effort,
we made a comeback. Did you ever think about leaving
during those 6 years? It is surprising
that in your 23-year career you’ve played for only two teams,
and both in Italy. Didn’t you think
about playing abroad? I would have liked to because I like being around different people, other ways of life,
of thinking. It sounded appealing. But deep down I feel very Italian. I know Italy has its limitations but the world I know makes me smile
and I like it. As a figure in sports I didn’t
and still don’t want to leave Italy
as long as I don’t have to. You’ve been playing professionally
for 23 years. Football has changed a lot and as a goalkeeper you’ve seen how goalies now
play more with their feet. You’ve seen this transition, goalies using their feet
more and more, but you don’t really need it. It has been
a good change for me, a just change because football
has improved. It is more spectacular,
and less time is wasted. I also think that personally it has made me improve because all goalkeepers
have to play more with their feet and play differently. You have to be able to kick
and move out to the field… It’s a more complicated job
than before. It is better for me because I’m 40
and I’m still playing because I like
to compete and to improve. A few months ago you said
this might be your last year, but I’ve talked to Chiellini and he told me that Buffon
is not done yet. Any news on this?
Am I missing something? Will we be seeing Buffon
for another 2 years? No surprises. I think
that at my age you have to evaluate
the situation a month, a week at a time, because it is important
for athletes like you and me, who have always
played at the top, to be doing our best, struggling to be the best, to stay at the top. You have to be
physically well because you don’t want
poor results for the sake of your pride. I’m Buffon and that is
who I want to be till the last minute and when I’m not myself
anymore, I’ll go. In a couple of months,
I’ll meet with the president and we’ll evaluate
the situation calmly. I’m very happy
at the moment. I’m happy playing because I love
the atmosphere, I’m with my friends and I know
I can help on the pitch. The day I can’t,
no problem, I’ve had
a great career anyway. Are you afraid
of retirement? You’ve been a professional
for longer than you have not. Are you afraid of retirement,
leaving football, and starting a new life
that is unknown to you? I would be dishonest
if I told you I’m not afraid, but deep down I feel calm and at peace because I know
I’m naturally curious and the day
I stop playing football I will find a way
not to get bored and I’ll stay busy. After all, players like us who have lived
the game intensely have to keep
their minds occupied and have a reason to get up,
something to fight for. I’ll never get bored or miss being in the public eye. The only problem
is that my life has been organised for me for 23 years. Every morning
you are given a timetable. However, when you have 24 hours
ahead of you with nothing to do, that could be a problem. Will you stay
in the profession? Is there a role you’d like to take
when you retire? I’d like to… take up courses to become a director, a manager, or a trainer. Then choose an option
without rushing. Lastly, you said football
has made you a better person. What would you have been
if not a footballer? I surely would have been
a worse person. I probably would have been a PE teacher like my parents. I was heading
in that direction. I’ve always liked sports and being
around children, but football has made me
a better person because
I’ve always thought the group is more important. It is nice
to be part of a group and share victories
and defeats. It makes you
less selfish, I find that
truly beautiful, being more altruistic
and sharing with others is the best thing in life. Being popular has positives
and negatives. Negative like when you do
something wrong and it is exaggerated on the TV,
in the newspapers. Those consequences
from that exaggeration make you think
and say to yourself that you don’t deserve
to suffer this outcome. I must try
not to provoke them, behave better, and be a better person. These years of confusion
with so many problems have helped me improve. As a player, I know football is better
with you in it. It was a pleasure
having you here today and talking to you. Did you know
that when I was 21 I had to choose
between Barça and Juventus? I could have shared
a changing room with you. Really? Yes. Thanks very much. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *