Gianluigi Buffon is a one-off. A once in a generation phenomenon.
He is Italy’s all-time most capped footballer, was Juventus’ inspirational captain prior to his short stint at PSG and one of the greatest goalkeepers ever.
Buffon started his professional career with Parma way back in 1995 and ended it there too, finally retiring in the summer of 2023 aged 45. But this wasn’t a case of someone hanging on for too long, like a fine wine, Buffon got better and better with age.
His remarkable longevity (which saw him overtake Paolo Maldini as Serie A’s “most-capped” player in 2021) is almost unparalleled in the modern game and with a career spanning four different decades, he was blessed to play with some elite footballers who were among the best in their generation.
From Parma and Italy’s youth teams to Juventus and Italy’s senior side and with Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain, Buffon shared a dressing room with some true legends of the game and as a result, Squawka decided to assemble his ultimate teammate XI from the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s.
All four sides are utterly ridiculous…
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Buffon in the 1990s
Teams represented: Parma, Italy
Major honours: UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, Under-21 European Championships
November 19th, 1995 was a historic day for football as Gianluigi Buffon, aged only 17, made his professional debut for Parma against that season’s eventual champions, AC Milan.
Many young ‘keepers would struggle to cope with the pressures of being thrust into the spotlight against a team containing Roberto Baggio, George Weah and Zvonimir Boban in attack, but Buffon instead flourished, keeping a clean sheet and saving a penalty in a 0-0 draw.
A star was born and, following that debut, Buffon established himself as a regular in Parma’s goal for the rest of the decade at a time where they boasted some truly elite players.
Undoubtedly he was helped by playing behind a defence containing characters such as Fabio Cannavaro, Fernando Couto and Roberto Sensini, while Lilian Thuram was added to the mix after Euro 1996.
Parma finished second in Serie A at the end of the 1996/97 season but better was still to come as they won the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia in 1999 with players such as Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo starring at the top end of the pitch.
By the end of 1999, Buffon had also begun to establish himself as Italy’s first-choice shot-stopper, amassing 12 international caps, which meant that he played alongside players such as Paolo Maldini, Christian Vieri and Francesco Totti in their prime years.
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Buffon in the 2000s
Teams represented: Parma, Juventus, Italy
Major honours: World Cup, Serie A (2), Serie B, Supercoppa Italiana (2)
At the end of the 2000/01 campaign, Buffon opted to depart Parma in order to join Juventus in a deal worth £32m – a fee that remained the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper before Liverpool and Chelsea splashed the cash on Alisson Becker and Kepa Arrizabalaga during the summer of 2018.
Despite losing Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid for a world record £50m that same summer, the Old Lady rebuilt their squad impressively, also bringing in Thuram from Parma as well as Pavel Nedved from Lazio.
Immediately, Buffon set about paying back the price tag, starring as Juventus won back-to-back Scudettos and reached the Champions League final in 2003 where they lost on penalties to AC Milan.
An already top-class Juventus squad containing Edgar Davids and Alessandro Del Piero was further supplemented in 2004 as Cannavaro followed his former teammates from Parma to Turin with Zlatan Ibrahimovic also joining from Ajax.
They won two successive titles again but the Calciopoli scandal stripped the club of both trophies in 2006 sending Juventus down to Serie B and leading to an exodus of their star players.
On a brighter note, Buffon achieved what most can only dream of by winning the World Cup with his country as an Italy side boasting Cannavaro, Nesta, Pirlo, De Rossi, Gattuso, Del Piero and Totti, amongst others, beat France in the final on penalties.
Buffon in the 2010s
Teams represented: Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Italy
Major honours: Serie A (7), Coppa Italia (4), Supercoppa Italiana (3), Trophee des Champions, Ligue 1
Following Alessandro Del Piero’s decision to bring a 19-year career at Juventus to an end in 2012, Buffon’s legend status at the club grew even further as he was appointed club captain.
Under his leadership, the Old Lady re-established themselves as the leading force in Italian football, winning the seven Serie A titles in a row.
Crucial to their success had been the impenetrable BBBC back four consisting of Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, who were widely regarded as the best defensive unit in European football, before Bonucci departed for rivals AC Milan and Buffon packed his bags for the French capital, though they later returned.
Ahead of them, midfielders of the calibre of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba and Miralem Pjanic, have combined elegance with power, spearheading Juve forward, but it is hard to look beyond the exploits of Vidal and Pirlo.
In attack, the likes of Carlos Tevez, Mario Mandzukic, Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala, have scored crucial goals at crucial times to lead Juventus to titles and major finals but his French spell wins out.
Buffon had the pleasure of watching the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani wreak havoc at the other end of the pitch during his time with PSG, who could also rely on Marco Verratti in midfield.
Buffon in the 2020s
Teams represented: Juventus, Parma
Major honours: Serie A, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana
The 2020s saw Buffon return to past loves, first re-joining Juventus and then making his way back to boyhood club Parma. He was no longer first-choice at Juve but still made 21 appearances for the club from the start of 2020, including 14 under former teammate Pirlo. The squad wasn’t too different from the Juventus side he left in 2019, particularly the backline, with Bonucci and Chiellini still going strong – now joined by Matthijs de Ligt in the defence.
Then there was the enhanced presence of Cristiano Ronaldo as the star striker, fronting a pretty stacked attack which also includes Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa, a player whose father (Enrico) Buffon also played with. That’s how long he’s been around! Buffon also played with a number of decent midfielders including Pjanic once again, and the likes of Juan Cuadrado who have shifted to defence from attacking positions.
And that would be that for Buffon. After two years with Parma in Serie B, the Italian finally hung up as boots (and gloves), bringing a close to one of the greatest footballing careers, spanning 28 years.
1999: Gianluigi Buffon wins the UEFA Cup at Parma alongside Lillian Thuram and Enrico Chiesa.
2018: Buffon plays with Federico Chiesa for Italy
2019: Buffon wins Ligue 1 playing against Marcus Thuram along the way
2021: Buffon re-signs for Parma pic.twitter.com/qkKeBgv4z6
— Squawka (@Squawka) June 17, 2021