Gianluigi Buffon: The greatest of this generation, but not the greatest ever

Ben Darvill

Wednesday evenings Champions League game between Monaco and Juventus saw the Italians took a massive step towards securing a place in the show-piece final with a 2-0 win over free-scoring Monaco, but there was a bigger talking point following the events of the evening.

Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon played a starring role throughout as he kept Monaco at bay. With the problems many other goalkeepers in the world are currently enduring, the Italian’s continued prominence is testament to his incredible ability.

Buffon has conceded just 22 goals in 34 league games this season, while in the Champions League, Juventus have conceded just two goals in their 10 games, keeping eight clean-sheets in the process, which is just further confirmation of a long and outstanding career.

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Buffon’s illustrious career started over 20 years ago with Parma in 1995. The goalkeeper spent six years with the Italian club, making just short of 170 appearances for the club before moving to Juventus for around £32 million.
He displaced Edwin van der Sar as the number one and immediately established himself as a superb purchase. There was talk that he could have gone to Roma or Barcelona, but his father reportedly talked him into joining the Italian superpower, meaning every Juventus fan should probably buy Buffon’s father a drink if they ever see him.

Of course, things haven’t been perfect for Buffon. He was forcibly relegated following the Italian betting scandal and he has spent a lot of time out injured. However, for  a player that has been active for over 20 years, the good has heavily outweighed the bad.

The legend himself has won nine Serie A titles, which will surely swell to 10 this season, along with two Coppa Italia crowns. He has also been named the Serie A goalkeeper of the year 11 times along with the IFFHS’ Best goalkeeper of the decade, Best goalkeeper of the last 25 years and Best goalkeeper of the 21st century among many, many more honours.

What makes him such a likely character though is his ability yes, but also how humble he is and his continued pursuit of success. Even at the age of 39, he is still playing at a higher level than most goalkeepers.

This has led some to call him the greatest goalkeeper ever. In the modern game, it would be foolish to put him alongside Manuel Neuer or David de Gea, who are currently the two best goalkeepers. However, due to his longevity, the level he is still playing at and what he has won, it would not be outrageous to put him beside the greatest goalkeepers of all time.

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Juventus keeping six clean-sheets in a row is an incredible feat, and they are yet to concede in this season’s knock-out stages. The clean-sheet against Monaco last night sees Buffon move on to 47 Champions League shut-outs, level with Petr Cech, but still seven short of Iker Casillas.

While it is clear that he ranks amongst the greatest of all time, he is not the best.

That accolade goes to Russia’s legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin. The Black Spider as he was known, was the most gifted man to ever stand between the posts, but he isn’t that well known.

The Russian was an incredible athlete, quick and agile, he was never caught off-guard and his strong personality and lighting fast reflexes made him a superb goalkeeper.

He made around 400 appearances for club and country, with Dynamo Moscow the only club he played with, he reportedly kept 270 career clean-sheets in his career, meaning he oversaw a shut-out every 0.67 games and it is estimated that he saved 150 penalties in his career.

What sets Yashin apart though is the one award Buffon, and no other goalkeeper has ever won, the Ballon d’Or. Yashin picked up the famous trophy in 1963, and while both Buffon and Neuer have come close to replicating this feat, they have both failed.

While Buffon clearly ranks amongst the very best, he, and every other goalkeeper currently playing, were playing a very different game to the Black Spider.

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