By Paolo Menicucci
In 1995 Luca Bucci was instrumental in Parma FC's UEFA Cup triumph, before losing his place to a then-promising goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, the following season. Now 35, Bucci is back at the Ennio Tardini stadium and in his first appearance since his return, he helped the Italian team to keep a clean sheet in the first leg of the UEFA Cup Round of 32 against VfB Stuttgart.
"For me returning to breathe the air of European competitions is a great honour," said the veteran goalkeeper after the game. "I thank the coach [Pietro Carmignani] for giving me the great opportunity to play in the UEFA Cup again."
"He doesn't have to thank me," Carmignani replied with a smile. "I'm the one who has to thank him for his brilliant performance. With his experience he gave calm and confidence to all his younger team-mates. He saved everything he could have saved and I think he was as good as [Stuttgart's Timo] Hildebrand, who also made some brilliant saves. I think the 0-0 was only the consequence of the two goalkeepers' performances."
After leaving Parma in 1996, former Italian international Bucci played for AC Perugia, Torino Calcio and Empoli FC, before suffering a serious shoulder injury last year. "I was forced to undergo an operation and many people thought that my career was over," Bucci said.
Parma, however, signed him on a free transfer during the January transfer window as cover for Sébastien Frey. "I worked very hard to recover," he continued. "In the four or five months that I was without a contract I trained with Parma's youth side. I was working with Carmignani almost every day when he was the reserve team coach, and I'm very proud because I managed to convince him that I deserved a chance."
Back to the bench
Bucci will return to the substitutes' bench on Sunday, as Frey is expected to start Parma's game against fellow relegation strugglers Brescia Calcio, but the veteran goalkeeper has been told that he will be back in goal as his side travel to Stuttgart for the return leg next week.
He said: "I think Stuttgart are surely among the best teams in Europe. They have everything a great team need. They are young, they have physical power and technique. We are not favourites to progress, but I have played many games as a favourite in the past, and many times I lost them."
"The beauty of football is that you can never be sure of a result," he continued. "They will have to beat us if they want to qualify after the 0-0 draw in the first leg, and I think they know it won't be an easy game for them."
Watching Bucci between the posts in a UEFA Cup night, many Parma fans have remembered the final against Juventus in 1995. Former Italy international Dino Baggio scored both goals for Parma in their 2-1 aggregate win, but Bucci made a fantastic save from Gianluca Vialli in the first leg, and another from Moreno Torricelli two weeks later.
I feel like only a few days have passed since those games," Bucci explained. "My memories are still so fresh and clear. Now, at 35, I love playing as much as I did when I was younger and repeating a success like that one would be simply fantastic."
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