Buf­fon calls time on Juve career, but isn’t re­tir­ing

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT -

MI­LAN: Italy’s tal­is­manic goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon, con­sid­ered by many to be the great­est-ever in his position, will play his last match for Ju­ven­tus af­ter 17 years at the club when they host Verona in Serie A to­mor­row.

Yet the 40-year-old, who has won nine Serie A ti­tles with Ju­ven­tus in­clud­ing the last seven in a row, stopped short of an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment from the sport in a news con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

The 2006 World Cup win­ner, close to tears at times, said that un­til two weeks ago he had been set to end his play­ing career, but changed his mind af­ter re­ceiv­ing “very in­ter­est­ing” pro­pos­als.

“Satur­day will be my last game for Ju­ven­tus. I think it’s the best way to end this won­der­ful ad­ven­ture,” said Buf­fon, who has kept 300 clean sheets in his 655 ap­pear­ances for the Turin side in all com­pe­ti­tions.

“For now, I only know that Satur­day I will play a game. Un­til a few days ago it was cer­tain that I would stop play­ing. Now there are some very in­ter­est­ing pro­pos­als,” he said.

Buf­fon, who made his pro­fes­sional de­but for Parma in 1995 be­fore join­ing Juve in 2001, had planned to end his career at the 2018 World Cup, which would have been his sixth, but Italy as­ton­ish­ingly failed to qual­ify for the first time since 1958.

The keeper has re­mained re­mark­ably loyal to the Turin side, re­fus­ing to leave them even af­ter they were rel­e­gated to Serie B in 2006 over the Cal­ciopoli match-fix­ing scan­dal, which also saw them stripped of a fur­ther two Serie A ti­tles.

Buf­fon, who set a fash­ion trend dur­ing his career by be­com­ing one of the first goal­keep­ers to wear short-sleeved shirts, said he would not con­sider play­ing for a lower league team.

“I am cer­tainly not some­one who thinks it is right to end my career in the third or fourth level divi­sion. I am a com­pet­i­tive an­i­mal,” he said.

Ju­ven­tus won a league and cup dou­ble this sea­son, their fourth in a row, but also suf­fered a bitter Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal exit against Real Madrid, who won with a stop­page-time penalty.

Buf­fon was sent off for protest­ing the de­ci­sion and then launched a fu­ri­ous tirade against ref­eree Michael Oliver and said that Uefa were right to open a dis­ci­plinary case against him.

“I stepped over the line and I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed. If I had seen him (the ref­eree) two days later, I would have em­braced him and asked for for­give­ness.”

That de­feat en­sured Buf­fon would not leave Juve with a Cham­pi­ons League win­ners’ medal, the only ma­jor ti­tle he has never won in his career.

“It has been a sea­son with some shocking and un­ex­pected lows but also in­cred­i­ble highs and, yet again, we gave an in­cred­i­ble re­sponse,” he said.

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