Juventus captain and icon Gianluigi Buffon spoke to the media ahead of Juve’s first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Monaco, talking about what playing in the competition means to him.
“If Juventus and Monaco reached this stage of the season, playing for a Champions League Final, they did it because they deserved to and have qualities that got them here.
“Therefore aside from the expectations and early season projects, I think it’ll be a balanced game between two very important teams who deservedly reached this stage and did so with a certain confidence.
“It’s qualification played over 180 minutes and that might suit us more. I also believe Monaco, being a young and vital team, will have the enthusiasm and healthy lack of cynicism that youth gives you – I too was a young player and know full well what it means to play in games where you feel unbeatable and indestructible.
“That is the danger, because we are facing a side that is not in the semi-final because of some fluke. They clearly and without doubt knocked out Tottenham and Bayer Leverkusen, then Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.
“Two years ago we were probably tense because facing Barcelona in the Final, a team made up of those champions, is not relaxing. You can’t arrive to that in frivolous and joyful fashion, or it’d be an enormous advantage to the opposition.
“The approach to certain games is very personal. Whereas two years ago on the one hand we could be relaxed, as reaching the Final was unexpected, this time we can be more relaxed because overcoming this hurdle would be the almost logical conclusion to a journey we started years ago, taking us to sit at these levels with comfort.
“Unlike two years ago, Monaco are flying in Ligue 1 as well, so that brings more confidence and enthusiasm. Juventus never lacked for support from the local fans, even if we played in Tokyo, so there being many Italians in Monaco will I’m sure make the crowd as enthusiastic as ever.”
He was then asked what contribution was expected from Gonzalo Higuain.
“If by contribution you mean decisive goals, we are happy whoever finds the net and makes our passage easier. Gonzalo didn’t score over two legs against Barcelona, but he helped us ensure that we didn’t concede – which really is thanks to the whole team, starting from the strikers.
“He also helped our moves work in a fluid manner by finding himself in the right position, contributing crucial assists or passes. I know everyone expects goals from him, but I hope he won’t lose that attitude he’s had with us this season, as with that attitude we can go further in the tournament.”
When Juventus eliminated Monaco a couple of years ago, the French team was quite different.
“Monaco are a very attack-minded and fresh-faced side who are really strong going forward. You can tell their Coach teaches them a quality style of attacking play, but you can also do that with players who have technical qualities beyond the norm.
“Mbappé is the star of the team, the player who gets the headlines over the last six months, but along with him there are Radamel Falcao and other lads who are real dangers. I have total respect for Monaco, because I know that whatever happens tomorrow – unless there’s a two or three goal gap – their characteristics would leave the tie open for the second leg.
“They have this attitude that makes them unpredictable and that means you never know what could happen.
“I don’t think Monaco will change their approach. They came here with their characteristics and guarantees, so I imagine they’ll want to continue that philosophy. It’s a rewarding philosophy, as it has taken them at least to the Champions League semi-final.
“This Monaco plays total football, is a pleasure to watch and has caught the eye of many football experts. They are wonderful and I sincerely doubt they’ll step back from that approach just because they are in the semi-final and facing Juventus.
“I like what Falcao said, because at the end of the day this is a person who is grounded in reality, because for 90 per cent of players, you don’t get many chances after the age of 30 at a Champions League Final.
“However, all of us hold within us this hope that we can have another chance or opportunity to celebrate an achievement that was unheard of. This is the way of viewing things for a competitive athlete, who says things that are not presumptuous, but has belief in himself that can make people doubt their birth certificate.”
Buffon confessed he had pledged to retire if he kept two clean sheets against Barcelona. What would be the pledge for Monaco?
“I made the pledge before the first leg, so extra complicated. It’s a way of keeping ourselves young, of motivating yourself, but it’s also true that when I was younger, I’d make these bets with myself, that if someone scored from the edge of the box, I’d go to the HQ and tear up my contract!
“I had to motivate myself to shake things up and set little or big targets. The President was very good with this and he said nothing happens at Juventus without me knowing about it – many dumb things are said, let it go.”
What does playing in the Champions League really mean to him?
“I understand it might be hard to believe, but for me playing a Champions League semi-final at my age is really something that stokes my enthusiasm and is not an obsession. It makes me happy and keeps me young, regardless of whether I win or not.
“I know that in these games, I’ll have the ability to express my essence – who I am and why I was born. This makes me very happy and gives strong sensations. It’s the taking part. My approach is very relaxed, positive and I don’t think I am owed anything. Absolutely not.
“If we win the Champions League, it won’t change anything. I have a contract to 2018 and still have targets through to 2018, whether I win the trophy or not.”
Who in the Madrid derby was Buffon supporting to get through?
“I will certainly watch it, as this is a game that needs to be seen, regardless of potential rivals. I am not cheering anyone on, as I am a disinterested party. Whoever wins, in case of a hypothetical final, would be a tough opponent to deal with.
“I like the solidity and unity of Atletico Madrid very much, but in the Champions League, Real Madrid have something special and always manage to overturn the odds or win games that were thought unthinkable. They were born under a luminous star. As I said before, that’s the kind of attitude you get from staying at a certain level for long periods.”