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 arguably the greatest goalkeeper ever.
Buffon started his professional career with Parma way back in 1995 and he is still plying his trade in the upper echelons of world football 26 years later. Like a fine wine, the 43-year-old is seemingly just getting better and better.
His remarkable longevity (which saw him overtake Paolo Maldini as Serie A’s “most capped” player last summer) is almost unparalleled in the modern game and with a career spanning three decades, he has been 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 has 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 and 2010s (we’re holding off on the 2020s for now).
All three sides are utterly ridiculous…
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.
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.
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 Scudetto’s 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 itself 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 have both since 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 Manduzukic, 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.
If Buffon carries on long enough into the 2020s, Cristiano Ronaldo will surely head up the attack in that combined XI.
“He won’t want to stop, but they will make him stop, which is very different,” Totti said last year of his former teammate.
“I’ll tell you; Gigi wants to play until he’s 50, but he can play for two or three more seasons. Besides, he’s in goal and is a back-up.”