Gianluigi Buffon: The Making of Superman
The goalkeeper retired from international football following Italy’s shock World Cup elimination. Mark Doyle tells the story of the legend’s rise to greatness
Before every Parma game, coach Nevio Scala would pass by each player’s room to assess their frame of mind.
On the eve of the Serie A meeting with AC Milan on November 19, 1995, he was interested in the demeanour of one player in particular, the 17-year-old Gianluigi Buffon.
“Gigi had never played in the first team before and we were playing a team of superstars: Roberto Baggio, George Weah, Paolo Maldini,” Scala tells Goal. “So, I said to him, ‘Gigi, what happens if I play you tomorrow? Would you be ready?’
“Gigi looked straight at me, almost bemused, and said flatly, ‘Mister, what exactly is the problem?’”
Even as a teenager, Gigi had never been afraid of a challenge. But then, it had always been his way.
“Since I was a child, I always have liked difficult tasks,” the Juventus and Italy No.1 said only last month. “Every time I’ve had to make a choice, I’ve followed my nature.
“I’m the kind of person who always wants to face hard challenges, almost impossible ones. Playing as a goalkeeper is a consequence of my character and nature.”
Both were forged in Carrara.
It was in the small Tuscan town renowned for its marble quarries that Maria Stella gave birth to a baby boy on Saturday, January 28, 1978.
However, Maria and her husband Adriano Buffon didn’t even get a chance to hold their new-born child before he was whisked away by a nurse to the intensive care unit.
Before revisiting the drama of Gigi’s birth, Maria takes a big breath. “I suppose that it was destiny,” she sighs. “But it was not easy at the time.
“He seemed healthy when he was born; four kilos, so he’s always been pretty big!
“But he had been suffocated by the umbilical cord. He had cyanosis (a discolouration of the tissue in the face caused by a lack of oxygen) and he was in an incubator for five or six days, just lying there, like Jesus on the cross.
“We didn’t know if there’d be any brain damage. When they finally handed him to me, the doctors said, ‘Only God knows…’
“But the good Lord was very generous. He was very good to us. Gigi was walking and talking at nine months, before any of the other kids. Even then, he was No.1.”