Juve icon knock­ing on Bal­lon d’Or

Vet­eran Gian­luigi Buf­fon in con­tention to end Old Lady’s 21-year wait for Euro­pean crown and be­come first goal­keeper since ’63 to win Bal­lon d’Or

The New Age (Free State) - - SPORT - MI­LAN

AS JU­VEN­TUS look to end a 21-year-wait for the Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle, there are those who be­lieve goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon can end a 54-year wait and be of­fi­cially crowned the top shot­stop­per in Europe.

The rock of a team that re­cently em­bel­lished its grow­ing pedi­gree with a record sixth con­sec­u­tive ti­tle and record third suc­ces­sive league and cup dou­ble, Buf­fon, many be­lieve, is in firm con­tention for the Bal­lon d’Or.

Given the dom­i­nance in re­cent years of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, a key threat on Saturday when Ju­ven­tus meet Real Madrid in Cardiff and Barcelona neme­sis Lionel Messi, such an ac­co­lade is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing the only pre­vi­ous goal­keeper hon­oured was Rus­sian leg­end Lev Yashin in 1963.

Many have come close, in­clud­ing Buf­fon, who in 2006 fin­ished sec­ond to Italy team­mate and Real Madrid de­fender Fabio Can­navaro.

But to match the feats of Yashin, known as the “Black Spi­der” for ac­ro­batic goal­keep­ing feats that wowed the beau­ti­ful game in the 1960s, is go­ing to take some do­ing.

AC Mi­lan leg­end Gianni Rivera, who fin­ished sec­ond to Yashin in the 1963 vote, has echoed many in the game who be­lieve Buf­fon, still in search of an eva­sive Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle, will only get close if Juve are crowned Euro­pean cham­pi­ons.

“It was a his­tor­i­cal first, but it was right to give Yashin his award,” Riverai re­cently said.

“I only found out later I’d come sec­ond.

“Buf­fon de­serves to win it for what he’s still do­ing on the pitch. If he wins the Cham­pi­ons League with Ju­ven­tus, it will be the crown­ing glory of what has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer.”

Now 39 and head­ing to­wards re­tire­ment fol­low­ing the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia, Buf­fon re­mains one of the world’s best.

In a sea­son that has seen Ju­ven­tus ditch a con­ser­va­tive 3- 5-2 for­ma­tion for a more in­ven­tive and at­tack­ing 4-2- 3-1 in which de­fen­sive du­ties re­main a pri­or­ity, Buf­fon has been su­perb.

Es­pe­cially in Europe, where he de­fied his years and pro­duced three remarkable stops on his way to see­ing Ju­ven­tus put one leg into the fi­nal with a pre­cious 2- 0 win over Monaco at the Stade Louis II last month.

It is not for noth­ing that Buf­fon, who has seen Ju­ven­tus through thick and thin and re­mained with the club fol­low­ing their de­mo­tion to Serie B fol­low­ing the Cal­ciopoli match­fix­ing scan­dal, is re­garded, in par­lia­men­tary terms, as the “Speaker of the House”.

At the head of the Ju­ven­tus dress­ing room there are two plush seats that re­sem­ble thrones.

Buf­fon sits on the right, with no­to­ri­ously

me­dia- shy but hugely-re­spected Croa­t­ian for­ward Mario Mandzu­kic to his left. From there, Buf­fon com­mands the dress­ing room. Al­though the big ‘keeper is the first one to ad­mit: “You have to make the saves. If I’m not mak­ing saves, then I can’t start giv­ing lessons.”

The last time Ju­ven­tus tri­umphed in the com­pe­ti­tion was in 1996, when the Turin gi­ants beat Ajax at the Sta­dio Olimpico.

Af­ter two suc­ces­sive run­nerup places in 1997 and 1998, the Ital­ians lost the fi­nal a fur­ther two times in 2003 and 2015, for a record tally of six run­ner- up places. End­ing their hoodoo might just give Buf­fon, de­scribed re­cently by France Foot­ball as “the only real ri­val to Ron­aldo”, a fit­ting end to his ca­reer.

De­fender and team­mate Giorgio Chiellini, though, said the ‘keeper should only de­serve it based on his per­for­mances this year.

“I’m lucky to have played all my ca­reer along­side Buf­fon. He de­serves the Bal­lon d’Or for what he’s achieved this year.

I hope he wins it, but it would be a con­se­quence of us win­ning in Cardiff,” Chiellini said. – AFP


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Ju­ven­tus goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, 39, is still one of the most re­spected play­ers in Turin.

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