From goalkeeping glory to dark secrets: The shocking untold story of Gianluigi Buffon

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
5 Min Read

As the news breaks of his retirement from football at the age of 45, legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has penned a poignant letter to his 17-year-old self, sharing insights into his illustrious career and warning against the perils of far-right beliefs and the darkness of depression. As he bids farewell to his exceptional journey in professional football, Buffon opens up about the challenges he faced both on and off the pitch.

Gianluigi Buffon, affectionately known as Gigi, has undeniably etched his name in football history as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever. A career spanning over three decades, Buffon’s record is nothing short of remarkable. Starting his professional journey with Parma in 1995, the young goalkeeper quickly made a name for himself, helping Parma achieve glory with victories in the Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup, and Supercoppa Italiana in 1999.

But his move to Juventus in 2001 truly catapulted him to global recognition. The world-record transfer fee for a goalkeeper at the time, €52 million, seemed well spent as Buffon led Juventus to numerous Serie A titles, Coppa Italias, and Supercoppa Italianas. He was an integral part of the squad that reached the UEFA Champions League finals in 2015 and 2017, earning him a place in the Champions League Squad of the Season on both occasions.

Buffon at Juventus in 2002.

The Italian shot-stopper’s international career was equally awe-inspiring. Buffon’s accomplishments for his country are unparalleled, holding the record for the most international caps for a goalkeeper (176) and as the most-capped player in the history of the Italy national team. He was instrumental in Italy’s 2006 FIFA World Cup victory, earning the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

Despite his glories, Buffon acknowledges in his letter that his journey had dark moments. In one heart-wrenching passage, he recounts an incident from his youth when he inscribed “Death to Cowards” on his shirt before a match, unaware of its association with far-right extremism. This inadvertent mistake caused immense pain to his family, and he emphasises the importance of learning from such errors.

Buffon after Italy’s victory at the 2006 World Cup.

In the deeply personal letter, Buffon reveals his battles with depression, a struggle that has touched many top sportspeople over the years. He offers profound advice to his younger self, reminding him that real courage is not in pretending to be invincible but embracing vulnerability and understanding that everyone, regardless of fame or success, is human.

“Because when you are a young player for Parma, you will do something out of ignorance that will mark you. Before a big match, you’ll want to make a big gesture to show your teammates and the fans that you are a leader, you are courageous, you are a big character.

So you will write a message on your shirt that you once saw carved on a desk when you were at school.

You’ll write, “Death to Cowards.”

You think it’s just a motivational cry.

You don’t know that it is a slogan of the far-right fascists.

This is one of the mistakes that will cause your family a lot of pain. But these mistakes are important because they remind you that you’re human. They will remind you, again and again, that you don’t know shit, my friend. This is good because football will do an excellent job of trying to convince you that you are special. But you must remember that you are no different from the bartender or the electrician, who you will be friends with for life.

This is what will get you out of your depression. Not remembering that you are special, but remembering that you are the same as everyone else. You cannot comprehend this now, at 17 years old, but I promise you that real courage is showing weakness and not being ashamed.

You deserve the gift of life, Gigi. Just as everyone does, remember this.”

Buffon finished his career where it began – back at Parma.

As the footballing world bids farewell to this iconic goalkeeper, Buffon’s letter serves as a testament to his humility, wisdom, and resilience. He leaves behind a legacy that extends beyond his unparalleled achievements on the pitch, inspiring countless young talents to embrace their humanity, cherish life, and use their platforms responsibly.

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