What happened next? Every understudy to Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus

What happened next? Every understudy to Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus

Gianluigi Buffon is a goalkeeper whose career stretches across four decades and many different generations of players. He is a footballer whose longevity and shot-saving abilities are both legendary within his own time.

However, every player gets injured, and there are always understudies on hand to step in to cover for any absences, and that’s true of the world’s most famous ‘keeper too.

Buffon is about to begin his 21st season as a senior professional but who are the players who provided back-up to the Italian over the course of more than two decades of top level football?

Every second-in-command he has ever had between the sticks is listed below and rated for the job they did as deputies.

Alessandro Nista

Alessandro Nista pictured in 2011 during his spell as goalkeeping coach at Inter.

Club: Parma
Years as understudy:
1996-99
Major honours won: Uefa Cup, Coppa Italia
Additional understudies: Matteo Guardalben, Davide Micillo

Signed by Parma in 1995, it should have been Nista who stepped into the shoes of the club’s first-choice goalkeeper, Luca Bucci, when he was ruled out from facing reigning Italian and European champions Milan in November 1995. Instead, their manager opted to pick a 17-year-old Gianluigi Buffon from the youth ranks. He kept a clean sheet and a legend was born.

The season after, the youngster was promoted ahead of Bucci who departed on loan before joining Torino on a permanent basis in 1997, leaving Parma’s teenage prodigy in the capable hands of his experienced back-up, Nista.

26 NOV 1995: BUFFON THE PARMA GOAL KEEPER CLEARS HIS AREA DURING THE SERIE A LEAGUE MATCH BETWEEN PARMA AND AND JUVENTUS WHICH WAS PLAYED AT THE LUIGI FERRARIS STADIUM, PARMA. Mandatory Credit: Allsport/ALLSPORT

Once touted as the heir to the great Italian shot-stopper Walter Zenga during his youth, he took to the task of being a dependable understudy to the club’s new starter between the sticks. He picked up wins in the Uefa Cup and Coppa Italia for his troubles but made a grand total of three senior appearances after joining Parma in 1995.

After retiring in 2001 Nista went into coaching first with Torino and later with Juventus in 2009, taking on the task of keeping his old team mate Buffon sharp on the training field as a coach rather than as competition in the pecking order. Since leaving Turin he has worked with Inter and is currently employed by Udinese.

Rating: 6/10 – he didn’t play much but also didn’t grumble, and helped to guide the young Buffon through his first years as a professional.

Matteo Guardalben

PARMA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 04: Alessandro Mancini of Roma takes on the Parma goalkeeper Matteo Guardalben during the Serie A match between Parma and Roma at the Ennio Tardini Stadium on February 4, 2006 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by New Press/Getty Images)

Club: Parma
Years as understudy:
 1997-2001
Major honours won: Uefa Cup, Coppa Italia
Additional understudies: Davide Micillo

Following Nista’s departure in 1999, Parma’s third-choice ‘keeper Guardalben was promoted to being back-up to Buffon. His spell as second choice was even less eventful when it came to game time. Instead he focused his energies on his work for the team off the pitch. In 2009, he told Gazetta di Parma, “My contribution was in the locker room. It was a beautiful time.” Guardalben called time on his playing career in 2012 after one final spell with Modena.

Rating: 5/10 – Guardalben had little to do but keep spirits high behind the scenes.

Michelangelo Rampulla

19 Dec 1999: Michelangelo Rampulla of Juventus in action during the Italian Serie A match against Fiorentina played at the Stadio Communale in Florence, Italy. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Mandatory Credit: Claudio Villa /Allsport

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2001-02
Major honours won: Serie A
Additional understudies: Fabian Carini

Rampulla originally joined Juventus in 1992 to take the place of Stefano Tacconi as the new first-choice goalkeeper between the sticks yet he found his purpose as a back-up at the club, playing as the No. 2 to Angelo Peruzzi, Edwin van der Sar and, in his final season before retirement, Buffon.

He went into coaching once his playing days were over and is currently working with former Italy manager Marcello Lippi and the Chinese national team.

Rating: 7/10 – A Juventus stalwart whose final season could be regarded as a passing of the torch between one of the all-time great back-up ‘keepers and the rightful heir to the starting role in Turin.

Antonio Chimenti

TURIN - DECEMBER 10: Antonio Chimenti of Juventus organises his defence during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Juventus and Olympiakos held on December 10, 2003 at Delle Alpi Stadium, in Turin, Italy. Juventus won the match 7-0. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2002-06, 2008-10
Major honours won: Serie A
Additional understudies: Fabian Carini, Landry Bonnefoi, Nicola Avitabile

Signed with the express purpose of replacing the retiring Rampulla, Chimenti was regarded as a strong and experienced second-choice who could provide cover (and competition, if needed) to Buffon. A former starter for Roma, he was trusted to start in high profile games in key competitions such as the Champions League, and was in goal as they advanced past Manchester United in the second-round in 2003.

Yet when the club’s first-choice ‘keeper suffered a major injury in 2005, Chimenti was overlooked in favour of Christian Abbiati, loaned in from Milan to take Buffon’s place in the team. Frustrated by being denied the chance to step into the breach himself, the back-up packed up and left for Cagliari on a free transfer in the summer of 2006.

Juventus goalkeepers Gianluigi Buffon (L) and Antonio Chimenti, both injured, stand on the pitch before the Serie A Italian football match Juventus against Atalanta at Turin Olympic Stadium on March 28, 2010. AFP PHOTO DAMIEN MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

He later returned to Juventus in 2008 at the age of 38, although he was again shunted down the pecking order to become third choice after the purchase of Alex Manniger, and in 2010 retired as a player – but not before seeing Fulham put four past him to overturn a 3-1 deficit and beat the Italians in the knockout stages of the Europa League in 2010.

Rating: 4/10 – Rather than trust Chimenti, Juventus looked to other options when he should have been called into action. To his credit, he was a long-term fixture in Turin but that wasn’t enough for him to be allowed to shoulder the responsibility that should have been his to own.

Christian Abbiati

Turin, ITALY: Juventus' goalkeeper Cristian Abbiati (L) saves Antonio Jimenez's penalty during their Serie A football match Juventus-Fiorentina at Delle Alpi stadium in Turin, 9 April 2006. AFP PHOTO / PACO SERINELLI (Photo credit should read PACO SERINELLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2005-06
Major honours won: N/A
Additional understudies: Antonio Chimenti, Landry Bonnefoi, Claudio Scarzanella

A three-time Serie A winner with Milan who also picked up the Coppa Italia and the Champions League with his parent club in 2003, Abbiati wasn’t a standard second-choice signing for Juventus.

However, when Buffon suffered a dislocated shoulder early in the 2005/06 season, the Old Lady didn’t want to risk putting their campaign at risk by placing their trust in an inferior option between the sticks, hence why they looked past poor old Antonio Chimenti to bring in a higher calibre of cover on loan from another top club.

A regular for Milan between 1999 and 2002, Abbiati had fallen out of favour, he had initially been sent to play for Genoa for the season only to return to the San Siro after they were relegated due to being found guilty of match-fixing, but in Turin he flourished, especially as Buffon’s return from injury in November was short-lived.

By the end of his spell with Juventus, the loanee managed to make 27 appearances in all competitions, winning a Serie A title that would later be revoked due to the 2006 Calciopoli scandal.

AC Milan's goalkeeper Christian Abbiati (R) is beaten by Juventus' forward Alessandro Del Piero (C) during their Italian Serie A football match on December 14, 2008 at Olympic Stadium in Turin. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

In the summer of 2006 he moved back to Turin with Torino, and wished to remain at the club only for a dispute over wage demands to scupper any chances of a deal. Atletico Madrid were the next side to take Abbiati on loan, with whom he made 30 appearances in the 2007/08 season to finally return to Milan as their first-choice between the sticks, a position he would lose to Dida only to win back 2010.

In 2013, he broke Sebastiano Rossi’s record for the most appearances made by a goalkeeper for Milan, and finally settled into life as a back-up ‘keeper once again, acting as understudy to Diego Lopez and then a 16-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma, to become to the youngster what Nista and Rampulla had been to Buffon. A fitting end for Abbiati who played his final game as a professional on May 14 2017.

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 14: Christian Abbiati of AC Milan embraces Gianluigi Donnarumma at the end of the Serie A match between AC Milan and AS Roma at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 14, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Rating: 8/10 – More than a back-up. Emergency cover capable of giving Buffon competition for his place in the team.

Antonio Mirante

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2006-07
Major honours won: Serie B
Additional understudies: Emanuele Belardi, Landry Bonnefoi, Matteo Trini

A product of the Juventus youth academy, Mirante was sent out on loan to play for Crotone and Siena in order to build up his experience in 2004 and 2005, and in 2006 that exposure to first-team football paid off as his parent club were relegated to Serie B for their role in the Calciopoli scandal.

PARMA, ITALY - JANUARY 28: Antonio Mirante of Parma FC gestures during the TIM Cup match between Parma FC and Juventus FC at Stadio Ennio Tardini on January 28, 2015 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

While many of their key players abandoned the club in search of football in the top flight and in the Champions League, Buffon remained, and with Mirante as his back-up the Old Lady won their return to Serie A in 2007.

Back in the top division of Italian football, the Juventus No. 2 took up the option to move to Sampdoria on a loan deal that was later made permanent. He went on to play almost 200 games for Buffon’s old club Parma before joining Bologna in 2015.

Rating: 6/10 – A capable deputy who was ready to step in during his club’s time of need.

Emanuele Belardi

Reggina's forward Nicola Amoruso (R) score on penalty against Juventus goalkeeper Emanuele Belardi (C), during their Italian Serie A football match in Reggio di Calabria at Oreste Granillo Stadium, on February 23, 2008. AFP PHOTO / ANTONIO TACCONE (Photo credit should read ANTONIO TACCONE/AFP/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2006-08
Major honours won: Serie B
Additional understudies: Cristiano Novembre, Jess Vanstrattan, Matteo Trini

Signed to be the third-choice goalkeeper to Buffon and Mirante in 2006, he was promoted to become the leading man’s back up in 2007, and filled in for the Italian No. 1 during an injury spell during the winter months of his second season at the club.

However, he failed to impress and was deemed to be too unreliable between the sticks to hold down his role as the first-in-line to take on the responsibility of tending goal in a crisis, and with youngsters Cristiano Novembre Jess Vanstrattan deemed to be too inexperienced for the task at hand Chimenti was brought back into the fold.

CESENA, ITALY - OCTOBER 20: Manuel Fischnaller of Reggina and Emanuele Belardi of Cesena in action during the Serie B match between AC Cesena and Reggina Calcio at Dino Manuzzi Stadium on October 20, 2012 in Cesena, Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

A deal was struck with Udinese, his club at the time, to send Belardi the other way on loan, with the eventual purchase of Alex Manniger putting paid to his hopes of returning to take back his place in the goalkeeping hierarchy. Following stints with Cesena, Grosseto, Pescara and Pune City in the Indian Super League he is now on the books at Reggina.

Rating: 3/10 – He failed to prove he had what it took to be Buffon’s shadow and other options were sought to replace him.

Alex Manninger

TURIN, ITALY - DECEMBER 16: Alexander Manninger of Juventus FC issues instructions during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Juventus FC and Manchester City at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on December 16, 2010 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2008-12
Major honours won: Serie A
Additional understudies: Antonio Chimenti, Marco Storari, Marco Costantino, Matteo Trini, Carlo Pinsoglio

The Austrian made a career out of being a ready-made back-up to a string of clubs including Arsenal, Red Bull Salzburg and Liverpool, with whom he ended his playing career in 2017.

It was in 2008 when Juventus came calling, with Manniger signed to be a dependable second-choice in place of Belardi, a role which he played well during his four years in Turin, making 35 appearances for the Old Lady, beginning with a spell between October 2008 and February 2009 when Buffon became injured.

Rating: 7/10 – Solid if unspectacular, Manniger proved himself to be the deputy that Juventus were looking for.

Marco Storari

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 23: Marco Storari (L) and Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus FC prior to the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Catania Calcio at Olimpico Stadium on April 23, 2011 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2010-15
Major honours won: Serie A x4, Coppa Italia
Additional understudies: Marco Costantino, Rubinho, Laurentiu Branescu

Initially signed to compete with Manniger as cover to Buffon, Storari effectively replaced Chimenti in the Juventus squad 2010 after arriving from Milan off the back of loan spells with La Liga side Levante, Cagliari, Fiorentina and Sampdoria.

By the start of 2010/11 season he had won the battle to be regarded as the team’s second-choice goalkeeper after Buffon, who had sustained a back injury at the 2010 World Cup, and stayed on in his role in spite of offers from teams willing to give him the chance of starting for another club.

ROME, ITALY - MAY 20: Marco Storari of Juventus celebrates the victory after the TIM Cup final match between SS Lazio and Juventus FC at Olimpico Stadium on May 20, 2015 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

In the end he made a total of 64 appearances in all competitions for the Old Lady and was trusted to take care of keeping the goal safe in key matches during fixture build-ups in order to keep Buffon fresh for more important games, such as the 2015 Champions League final, and was in goal as Juventus won the Coppa Italia in 2015.

Storari returned to Milan in January 2017 to sign a six month contract at the age of 40.

Rating: 9/10 – The second-choice goalkeeper throughout one of the most successful periods in the club’s history, Storari was everything Juventus could have wanted from a No. 2.

Neto

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 08: Norberto Murara Neto of Juventus FC celebrates victory at the end of the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Bologna FC at Juventus Stadium on January 8, 2017 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2010-15
Major honours won: Serie A x2, Coppa Italia x2
Additional understudies: Rubinho, Laurentiu Branescu, Emil Audero, Carlo Pinsoglio

After Storari came another extremely able deputy in Brazilian shot-stopper Neto who carried on the Italian’s good work as understudy to the ageing yet still irreplaceable Buffon.

He would play fewer league games than his predecessor but appeared in every fixture on the way to winning the Coppa Italia in 2016 and 2017 to complete two domestic doubles under Max Allegri, a consistency in the Italian cup competition that caught the eye of La Liga side Valencia.

Neto will start the 2017/18 season as the first-choice goalkeeper for the former Spanish champions.

Rating: 8/10 – A talented back-up to Buffon who could take the strain of winning trophies on at least one front to allow the Juventus No. 1 to keep himself fit to play in the league and in Europe despite his advanced years.

Wojciech Szczesny

Roma's goalkeeper from Poland Wojciech Szczesny arrives for the Italian Serie A football match AS Roma vs Juventus on August 30, 2015 at the Olympic stadium in Rome. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Club: Juventus
Years as understudy:
 2017-present
Major honours won: N/A
Additional understudies: Laurentiu Branescu, Emil Audero, Carlo Pinsoglio

Once regarded as a talented liability at Arsenal due to his lapses in concentration and attitude, the Pole reinvented himself in Italy during a two-year loan spell with Roma, during which he showed off his quality as a shot-stopper with the sort of consistency that was missing from his game in England.

If all goes to plan, he could be the most gifted back-up Buffon has had, and a player with the potential to become his successor, as a goalkeeper and dressing room presence, but given his previous problems there will be concerns as to whether life as No. 2 would suit such a big (and occasionally problematic) personality as Wojciech Szczesny.

Rating: Watch this space…