Gianluigi Buffon record cements his legacy as greatest keeper of all-time
A little longer than one round of a boxing is how long Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had to hold out in order to break Serie A's clean sheet record on Sunday against Torino. Three minutes and one second. But no bell was rung. Instead referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle and Il Toro charged out of their corner with every intention of pummelling his goal.
On the eve of the game, Torino striker Ciro Immobile was asked about the music he planned to listen to in order to psyche himself up. Did it include Negramaro's song "Solo tre minuti?" (Only three minutes.) "Great song," he said. "But three minutes is not a long time to score against Juventus and deny Buffon the record. We'll give it a go."
The last time Torino were so precocious in the Derby della Mole was on Oct. 22, 1967. Argentine Nestor Combin scored a hat trick in an emotional 4-0 win for the Toro which came just a week after Gigi Meroni, the eccentric genius of Italian football, had been run down and killed in a road traffic accident by a future president of the club. Rather appropriately the first goal of Combin's tripletta came in the third minute.
The order of the day was instead to channel their inner Valentino Mazzola, the captain of the Grande Torino who netted a goal after one minute in 1944 -- the fastest in the history of this rivalry. (Incidentally, Valentino's son, Sandro, holds the same record in the Madonnina derby between Milan and Inter.)
But it wasn't to be. Instead, as the game clock struck 3:01 at the Stadio Olimpico, Buffon raised both thumbs to the sky in understated celebration. The Juventus fans unfurled a banner in the away end which read: "La Leggenda" (The Legend) and broadcaster Mediaset switched across to their studio guest, former Milan goalkeeper Sebastiano Rossi -- the holder of the previous record of 929 minutes.
Initially, his face was a picture of glum resignation as the realisation sank in that, after 22 years, the record no longer belonged to him. However, after the game he was magnanimous. "Moments like these are great and they should be enjoyed," he said. "I am happy that my record has gone to him and that it has stayed in Italian hands. All records are there to be broken. [Dino] Zoff said that to me when I broke his [in 1994]."
Curiously, Rossi had conceded less than half an hour after going past Zoff's landmark. His run had begun after an Ivan Kolyvanov goal and it ended after one too in a 2-1 win against Foggia at San Siro.
Buffon also happened to concede in the same game in which he broke the record as Juventus' 4-1 win against Torino was spoiled by an Andrea Belotti penalty. Buffon had managed to add another 44 minutes -- a total of 16 hours and 13 minutes, or 974 minutes -- to the record. He remains unbeaten in open play in the league since the first game of the New Year in Serie A.
Yet Buffon revealed he was nervous as the record got closer.
"For a while now I just wanted to give myself a bit of an electric shock in order to deal with the tension," he admitted afterwards. "I couldn't wait either to break the record or concede a goal. Rossi's record didn't seem within reach. You guys were talking about it after the fourth game [of a record 10 without allowing a goal]. It was only after Bergamo [and the 2-0 win against Atalanta on March 6] that I said to myself I could do it. It took a lot of mental strength. I managed it well and I'm enjoying it. At my age, things like this are particularly gratifying. A younger me perhaps wouldn't have savoured it."
It is, perhaps, something of a surprise that Buffon hadn't gone the distance earlier, particularly when playing behind Fabio Cannavaro and Lillian Thuram at Parma, then later Juventus. The closest he had come until Sunday was the season before last when the team put together seven straight clean sheets only to end -- hence the nerves a fortnight ago -- against Atalanta on 12 hours and 15 minutes.
The thing with a record like this is that it's not exclusively down to the goalkeeper; you need a bit of luck too. How else do you explain the presence of Roma's Ivan Pelizzoli in the top 10? Or Davide Pinato or Mario da Pozzo? All it takes is a cross to accidentally fall in at the far post, a shot to get deflected, or a penalty conceded (as occurred on Sunday) and the clock is reset.
"The record belongs to Juventus, not me," Buffon said afterwards with typical humility. "In all honesty, I don't think about individual records, as I always see myself as a team man. It's a reward because the more you think about the team, the more likely you are to get rewarded as an individual."
As a sign of his gratitude, he later posted a message of thanks on his Facebook page with a special dedication to each and every one of his teammates, even including third choice keeper Rubinho and utility man/cult hero Simone Padoin.
Remarkably, there are people out there who look on his record disparagingly. Serie A isn't competitive; it doesn't compare to Rossi's record as the standard of Serie A was higher then and the strikers were better -- they say.
But it's also true games were less open and Rossi got protection like no other. He played behind Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, one of the greatest defences of all-time. "That Milan team had four all-time greats and a good goalkeeper," Zvonimir Boban, a member of that team, told Sky Italia. "Buffon is the only all-time great at Juventus."
Teams may be more expansive these days; the number of goals per game may be up and matches have a freedom to them that they didn't in the past, but that only adds to Buffon's achievement. He is, quite simply, the greatest goalkeeper of all-time.
To maintain his level of performance, keep his standards of professionalism and retain the same insatiable hunger for success he had as a teenager when his great contemporary Iker Casillas, four years his junior, has declined so rapidly is incredible. Casillas and new arrivals like Germany's Manuel Neuer may have trophies in their collections that Buffon doesn't -- the European Championship and Champions League for example -- but Buffon has won everything else and been to the finals of those competitions.
His longevity is astonishing: he has 154 caps for Italy and his appearances in five separate World Cups is a feat matched only by Mexico's Antonio Carbajal and German legend Lothar Matthaus. When you frame it in these terms, Sunday's Serie A record couldn't really be any more appropriate because it's just another indicator of his endurance. Buffon's Superman t-shirt may have gone but his super powers remain. Even at 38-year-old, he is the undisputed No. 1.
James contributes to ESPN FC, Guardian Football Weekly, FourFourTwo and The Blizzard. Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.