Could Gianluigi Buffon Continue to Play Soccer into his 40s?

Gianluigi Buffon is on the verge of retiring from club soccer at the end of the 2017/18 Serie A season.

The Italian goalkeeper recently retired from international soccer after Italy failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup. However, the Juventus legend has possibly hinted a possible return to the Azzurri after recently being voted the best Serie A player at the Gran Gala del Calcio award ceremony.

But if the 39-year-old is still achieving soccer awards at the elite level, why shouldn’t the Italian continue for another five years?

Over the last couple of seasons, Gigi has failed to show signs of decline when performing on the European and international stages. The Juve star, to be honest, improves with age like Italian vino (wine) maturing in old oak barrels. Buffon’s on-field performances demonstrate that he still has more years in him to compete with Europe’s finest players and teams. His dedication and passion for the sport have what driven him to become one of Italy’s and the world’s all-time greatest goalkeeper and most respected soccer players.

Last month, Buffon mentioned in a Sky Italia interview that he would hang up his gloves if Juventus didn’t win this season’s UEFA Champions League. At the time, the Italian national team was preparing for the playoff against Sweden to determine who would clinch a European spot at next year’s World Cup in Russia. While the majority of Italian soccer viewers and neutral fans were expecting to see the Azzurri battling it out on the grandest stage, the unthinkable transpired.

The four-time World Cup winners suffered a 1-0 loss in Stockholm and failed to find the net in the second leg at a packed San Siro, consequently eliminating the Italians from the 2018 World Cup finals. For the Azzurri, failing to qualify for a World Cup in 60 years since 1958, sent their captain Buffon into crying tears of despair and creating one of the darkest moments in modern calcio. If losing the Champions League final on three occasions wasn’t bad enough for Buffon. This national team disaster blemished his wish – one where he would have liked to say arrivederci (see you later) to soccer on the world stage.

 

Buffon should emulate past and current goalkeepers that played over 40-years-old

 

One reason why Buffon should return to international soccer is to follow the stories of other current and past goalkeepers like Essam El-Hadary, Gabor Kiraly, and Dino Zoff. All these goalkeepers played for their respective nations over the age of 40.

Essam El-Hadary is the current goalkeeper of the Egyptian national soccer team and hasn’t shown any intentions of calling it a day anytime soon. At 44-years-old, Egypt’s veteran boasts an impressive 156 appearances for The Pharaohs – a feat that has seen him win the African Cup of Nations on four occasions. Nicknamed “The beast of Africa,” Essam El-Hadary almost retired from international soccer in 2013 due to a lack of game time, although it was fortunate that the Egyptian returned to the scene a year after.

Now that Egypt recently qualified for the 2018 World Cup after a 28-year absence, Essam El-Hadary will get the chance to make his World Cup debut and become the tournament’s oldest player in history. His desire to consistently get selected for Egypt and to at least feature in one FIFA World Cup tournament has proven age isn’t a barrier, especially for an energetic goalkeeper. Buffon should replicate Essam El-Hadary’s positive attitude if the Italian wants to patiently wait for the Qatar World Cup in 2022 and retire in the world’s most-watched sporting event.

Another example Buffon should follow is the story of Gabor Kiraly – a Hungarian goalkeeper that took the 2016 Euro tournament in France by storm. After retiring from international soccer just after last year’s European competition, Kiraly became the oldest player in history to play on the Euro stage. The Hungarian – known for wearing his iconic grey tracksuit pants – made his Euro debut at 40-years-old.

Dino Zoff – arguably one of the best goalkeepers of all time – played in the Spain 1982 World Cup with Italy at 40-years-old. The Italian set the record of becoming the oldest player to ever win a World Cup trophy. The former Juventus and Azzurri prodigy retired from international and club soccer in 1983, ending his significant legacy at 41-years-old. During recent years, Buffon has surpassed Zoff in club and international caps, so this could potentially motivate the former Parma star to continue and conquer more records.

 

Buffon should keep on using past setbacks as a motivation to stay on

 

Gigi is a player that has fueled off numerous setbacks in order to produce a decorated career. After playing a vital role in Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, Buffon’s Juventus had been relegated from the Serie A to Serie B due to the Calciopoli scandal. The Bianconeri had been involved in match-fixing, consequently stripping the Turin club’s 2004/05 and 2005/06 Serie A titles.

Juve fans thought Buffon would leave the Old Lady to avoid playing in the Serie B – Italy’s second tier. However, his devotion for the Bianconeri made him stay on, winning the Serie B title in 2007 and securing promotion back to the Serie A. Persistence is what defines Buffon – a trait that has guided the Toscano (Tuscan) to domestic and international success.

Not winning a single Champions League title still haunts Buffon to this day. He almost grabbed the trophy in 2003 in the all Italian final featuring Juventus and AC Milan, although Juve would lose in penalties. Losing the last two finals in three years against Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid, only made matters worse for the Italian’s quest to add that prestigious trophy on the resume.

 

Buffon returning to the national team might cause controversy with young Italian goalkeepers

 

Some Italians might argue that Buffon shouldn’t come back to the national team, as this will cast a shadow on emerging goalkeepers like Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mattia Perin, and Alex Meret. Since Buffon announced he would leave his post in the aftermath of the national team disaster, the topic has now been about how Donnarumma will perform on the national stage. Clearly, the AC Milan starlet has big shoes to fill.

Buffon out of the Azzurri picture might be ideal for young goalkeepers to develop confidence and gain experience, but this process could still continue even Gigi returns to the national team. Looking back at the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, the 39-year-old could only take part in a few of those group stage fixtures after picking up injuries in training. This gave Federico Marchetti and Salvatore Sirigu the opportunity to showcase their talent on the world stage.

In spite of this, Buffon making a return to the national side won’t entirely prevent young goalkeepers from getting the chance to represent Italy. The Italian veteran could be a rotating goalkeeper, playing on an occasional basis. In a way, it is crucial that Italy’s footballing youth look up to Buffon.

The composed Italian may have one more season left with Juve, but his intentions to win his first Champions League trophy indicate he still has more to offer for the 33-time scudetto winners. The positive attitude he possesses in life questions whether he will reappear in the Azzurri squad and patiently wait to play his last professional soccer match in the 2020 Euro or at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

 

A 21-year-old University student currently studying a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University, Australia. My Italian culture and passion for football (soccer) make me breathe the sport 24/7.