Captain for both club and country. Legend. Greatest of all time. Superman. God. Overall swell guy. All of these things can be easily associated with the one and only Gianluigi Buffon.
You can pick and choose from the Dictionary of Awesome for any kind of words you want to use to describe a goalkeeper like Buffon who has been so incredibly important for Juventus and the Italian national team.
There are only a handful of names to participate in five World Cups. And when Italy takes the field against England on June 14, Buffon will officially be included in that group. So many names have come and gone on the Italy roster the past decade or so, yet Buffon is basically one of the few constants since Italy won the 2006 World Cup. It doesn't matter who is currently the Italy manager or who the opponent is, there's basically one thing that is for certain — Gianluigi Buffon will be wearing the No. 1 jersey and starting in goal for Gli Azzurri.
And it's been the same for years now. Why change now?
Pretty good run, I'd say. And it's not over yet. If the way Buffon has played under Antonio Conte these last three Scudetto-winning seasons, Buffon still has plenty left in the tank. Not bad for a guy who will one of the oldest players at this year's tournament in Brazil.
Caps: 139, Goals: 0
Service for Italy: You don't have to look far to find Buffon on Italy's most-capped list. San Gigi is at the top of the list, appropriately pulling even with former captain and fellow 2006 World Cup hero Fabio Cannavaro when the Italian national team played their first ever game at Juventus Stadium last September. A month later in Italy's 2-2 draw to Denmark, Buffon earned his 137th cap to become Italy's all-time leader in appearances. In total, Buffon has earned 139 caps for Italy's senior squad — a run that has spanned nearly two decades since he made his debut at the age of 19.
And nobody — NOBODY — sings the Italian national anthem better than Buffon before a gain. Nobody.
What makes him interesting: He's Gianluigi Buffon. Isn't that enough right there? CASE CLOSED.
Even at the age of 36, Buffon has the ability to pull off the save few keepers were able to make. It doesn't matter if it's a point-blank stop right in front of him or a save where he goes flying through the air with his 6-foot-3 frame stretched to its fullest, Buffon is still one of the best keepers in the world. That's what makes him interesting, and it always will.
What to expect in Brazil: Judging by how he has played the past few seasons and he's as healthy as he's been in years, Buffon is entering this World Cup a whole lot better than how he left the last one four years ago. It doesn't really matter how Prandelli chooses to go about things tactically, Buffon is one of the Azzurri's most important players. He hasn't had to make over 100 saves the last couple of years like some other goalkeepers in Serie A have, but Buffon is still more than capable of putting his team on his back and being the decisive player that secures a win like he was when he first signed with Juventus over a decade ago.
This World Cup is different for Buffon and the Italian national team as a whole compared to the last one. They aren't the defending world champions like they were four years ago in South Africa, instead looking to make a mark with Cesare Prandelli at the helm. At a club level, Buffon and Juventus have gone from the hell that was four years ago to an absolute three-year renaissance and have dominated Serie A under the direction of Conte.
And if this fifth World Cup he's participated in ends up being his last one — he'll be 40 years old by the time the 2018 tournament in Russia rolls around — we might as well hope that Italy has him go out with a bang. May this World Cup involve plenty of clean sheets and the occasional world-class save. Seems like Buffon wouldn't want it any other way.