"Destiny made me become a goalkeeper." UEFA.com marks 20 years since Gianluigi Buffon's senior debut by winding back the clock with the Juventus and Italy great.
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"We deserved to win but we did not get the three points because Buffon was in goal for Parma." Those were the words of AC Milan coach Fabio Capello after his stellar Rossoneri side's goalless draw at the Tardini Stadium on 19 November 1995.
Twenty years have passed since Gianluigi Buffon's spectacular Serie A debut. With Luca Bucci injured, Parma coach Nevio Scala opted to field the 17-year-old against a Milan team who would dominate that season. This was one game the champions-elect would not win, however, Buffon responding in style to the faith shown in him by Scala. The teenager twice sprinted off his line to deny Roberto Baggio and George Weah – FIFA Ballon d'Or winners both – then made a wonderful close-range save from substitute Marco Simone.
The rest is history. A UEFA Cup winner with Parma in 1999, Buffon became the world's most expensive goalkeeper when joining Juventus for around €52m in 2001. Fourteen years later he has played more minutes for the Bianconeri than anyone in history, winning six Scudettoes along the way.
The 37-year-old's career, however, might have been very different had it not been for some fatherly advice. "I started to play, like all kids do, not as a goalkeeper," Buffon told UEFA.com. "I liked scoring goals; in the end it's all about scoring goals. Then, from the age of six or seven, I played in midfield, even as a sweeper, and I liked it a lot to be honest. I was a very active child."
Indeed he was still a midfielder in 1988 when he played at San Siro for the first time. This, though, was a children's match between representative teams from his native Tuscany and Veneto. "But it seems destiny made me a goalkeeper," added Buffon. "My dad suggested I change and try to play in goal. I always liked being at the heart of the action, trying to experience different situations and different challenges. One year I decided to try playing in goal – after that I was going to go back to playing outfield."
He never did.
"I think after five or six months I became a pretty good goalkeeper as I probably had some talent; that immediately drew a lot of attention to me," said the veteran. "A year later I was already playing for Parma on this completely different path."
There has been no shortage of success since, though the UEFA Champions League trophy is still missing from his CV. He has come mighty close, however, twice contesting the final with Juve and excelling on both occasions. "I still don't know how he reached that header," Filippo Inzaghi told UEFA.com after Buffon thwarted him in the 2003 decider, edged by Milan on penalties.
Twelve years later Buffon got to another final, Juve succumbing 3-1 to Barcelona. Again, Italy's No1 was in fine form, producing a sensational stop from Dani Alves to keep his side in contention until late in the game.
Buffon, the Azzurri's most-capped player with 153 appearances and counting, was also on the losing team in the UEFA EURO 2012 final. Next summer he will have another chance to add the UEFA European Championship to the FIFA World Cup won with Italy in 2006. That triumph, incidentally, came with the help of yet another extraordinary Buffon save in the final, Zinédine Zidane the man repelled.
"My first memory of the national team is the 1982 World Cup," the Italy captain recalled. "I remember those days at our home, or at my uncle's house, with all the family and those long dinners watching the matches. But I also remember that during the games I went outside or onto the balcony to play.
"It is nice to recall hearing from the balcony all those screams of joy and disappointment from my family." There will be plenty more next summer should Buffon – who will be 38 by then – continue to defy time as well as goal-hungry strikers across Europe.