After 16 years, few Juventini can imagine a Juventus without Gianluigi Buffon. Even fewer want to.
But all good things must come to an end. San Gigi told Sky Sport 24 last month (h/t Goal.com) that he is “99.9 percent certain of retirement” after the 2017-18 season. In that interview he stated that the only thing that would keep him beyond that point was if Juve wins the Champions League next year so he could compete in the Club World Cup, the one club competition open to Juve that he has never appeared in.
This isn’t really a surprise. Buffon told So Foot last year (again, h/t Goal.com) that he wanted to play until 40, but not beyond, and that is precisely the age he will be at the end of the year. When he signed a two-year extension in 2016, the prevailing wisdom was that it would be his final contract.
Buffon will obviously leave a massive hole when he retires. He’s the best goalkeeper of all time and remains one of the three or four best in the game today despite his age. He’s been with the club for 10 titles — yes, FIGC, 10 — three Coppa Italia wins and three Champions League finals. One hopes that he can add that finally add that missing piece this season.
Buffon is also a supreme leader, both off the field and on. Few will ever forget the “Sassuolo address” in October 2015, when he ripped into the team following an embarrassing loss at the Mapei Stadium, triggering a run of 15 straight wins that carried Juve from 12th to first. That was only one of many times he has piloted the team through difficult times.
That leadership ability is really what this article is all about, because when Buffon does hang up his gloves they won’t just need a new goalkeeper. They’ll need a new captain.
Buffon has been captain since Juve parted ways with Alessandro Del Piero in 2012. Assuming he does retire after the coming season, he’ll have held the armband for six years — a feat only six other men have achieved at the club.
When Buffon’s career does end, the captaincy will be held by another player — but the situation isn’t as cut and dried as it appears on its face.
As it stands, the hierarchy behind Buffon is fairly cut and dried. Giorgio Chiellini, who first started wearing the armband in the 2010-11 season, is the vice captain. Claudio Marchisio follows him in the order as second vice captain, then Leonardo Bonucci.
It’s likely that the armband will follow that path when Buffon leaves — but whoever among those three ends up captain will probably only be a short-term solution.
All three of the men in line are on the wrong side of 30. Bonucci turned 30 this past May. Marchisio will turn 32 in January. Chiellini, the favorite to take over as skipper, will be 33 before the season begins and 34 before he would get his hands on the armband permanently — and that’s if Buffon doesn’t have a change of heart between now and the World Cup.
Given their advancing age, whoever gets the armband will likely be a transitional captain before bequeathing the position long-term to the next generation. But who might that be?
By my reckoning, there are two contenders on the current roster.
The first is Paulo Dybala. If the 23-year-old decides to stay at Juventus long-term — and I don’t think that’s as unlikely as many people do — he would be a good choice. By the time he would be in position to be considered he would have been at Juve for long enough to have been thoroughly steeped in the club’s culture and learned enough by example to have evolved into a leader and the face of the team in his own right.
There would be one major piece of history standing in Dybala’s way: all of the 22 men who have captained Juventus have been Italian.
OK, that might be fudging it a little bit, Luis Monti and Omar Sivori were Argentinian, but by the time they were named captain at Juve each had attained Italian citizenship and were representing Italy at the international level. Dybala is obviously locked into Argentina’s national team, and if the team is keen on keeping tradition intact he may end up dropping down the pecking order.
That leaves one man as a logical long-term choice to be captain when the current core trio is gone. That man is Daniele Rugani.
Barring injury, by the time the current captaincy structure have retired or moved on Rugani will be firmly entrenched in the starting XI and just entering his prime. If he lives up to his potential, he’ll also be emerging as one of the best center-backs in the game.
Rugani has already spent two years as apprentice to Chiellini, Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli — all of whom have sported the armband in the past — as well as working closely with Buffon, who marshals the defense from between the posts. Apart from the benefits this has on his game, it’s also a master class in football leadership. What he learns from them he can take into the future as a leader for the future.
The next captain after Buffon is sure to be a short-term holder. Juventus has shown in signings like Rugani, Mattia Caldera, Riccardo Orsolini and others that there is already a long-term plan in place for the future. It’s logical to assume that similar plans have been made for the captaincy once the current guard are gone. Looking down the line, the best choice for the armband is the future of Juve’s defense. Sooner or later, you can expect Rugani to claim it.
Who should be Juventus’ captain following the retirement of Gianluigi Buffon?
This poll is closed
Other (Paulo Dybala, Daniele Rugani, etc.)