Buffon to leave Juventus: Cannavaro, Maldini and Ronaldo in goalkeeper's best team-mates XI

By Sports Desk May 11, 2021

Gianluigi Buffon has called time on his second spell at Juventus, concluding a defining playing association with the Serie A giants.

There may only be three clubs on the goalkeeping great's resume but sustained excellence over more than two decades has filled his trophy cabinet with individual and team honours. 

The former Parma prodigy has rubbed shoulders with the very best in world football throughout that time, forming part of Serie A, Ligue 1 and World Cup-winning sides.

In honour of Buffon's stellar career, we have compiled a star-studded group of former team-mates for a dream XI.

 

GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Who else has the pedigree to don the gloves in such a side?

A five-time member of the UEFA Team of the Year, he boasts more Serie A clean sheets than any other player and, as captain of his country from 2010 until his retirement in 2018, would have no trouble bringing this team together.

RIGHT-BACK: LILIAN THURAM

Having been joined by Buffon at Parma after his switch from Monaco in 1996, Thuram followed his team-mate in making the move to Turin ahead of the 2001-02 campaign.

The 142-time France international, part of the side that tasted glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and won Euro 2000, spent five seasons at Juve before rounding out his career with a spell at Barcelona.

CENTRE-BACK: FABIO CANNAVARO

Buffon's inheritance of the Italy armband from Cannavaro in 2010 completed the striking symmetry of their careers.

They both made their Parma debuts in 1995, did the same for Italy in 1997 and were reunited at club level when Cannavaro, one of few defenders to win the Ballon d'Or, joined Juve in 2004. They also lifted the World Cup together in 2006.

CENTRE-BACK: ALESSANDRO NESTA

A long-time rival at club level, Nesta was part of the famous Milan defence that beat Juve in the 2002-03 Champions League final – he scored his penalty against Buffon in a 3-2 shoot-out victory – and triumphed again four seasons later.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2000, which Buffon missed through injury, but the 2006 World Cup success will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career.

LEFT-BACK: PAOLO MALDINI

With admirable longevity, loyalty and leadership, classy defender Maldini set the path that Buffon has so impressively followed.

The long-time Rossoneri skipper, a seven-time Scudetto winner who also lifted the European Cup on five occasions, Maldini was the only player to have managed more Serie A appearances than the veteran keeper until his Juve return.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: ANDREA PIRLO

Has there been a more iconic duo of the modern era?

Pirlo was already at the top by the time he swapped Milan for Juve, but he saved plenty of his play-making brilliance for Buffon and friends as the Bianconeri re-asserted themselves as Italy's top club with a run of successive Scudetti that stretched to nine before being ended by Inter this season as their reunion as player and head coach did not yield similar results.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: PAVEL NEDVED

Nedved's blend of athleticism, tenacity and well-rounded technical ability made him close to the complete midfielder.

He helped Czech Republic to the final of Euro 1996 and his value to Juve was summed up by a Ballon d'Or victory in 2003.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ROBERTO BAGGIO

Less than two years after a 17-year-old Buffon held Baggio and Milan scoreless on his senior debut for Parma, the pair were sharing the same shirt for Italy.

Two of the Azzurri's greatest were in the same squad at the 1998 World Cup, although Buffon would ultimately go one better than the 1993 Ballon d'Or winner, who suffered final heartache against Brazil at USA 94.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

He stands as an equal in the pantheon of Juve luminaries.

Buffon and the majestic Del Piero combined to help the Bianconeri finish top of Serie A on five occasions, while they lined up for Italy together for over a decade and experienced World Cup glory together

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo joined Juve as Buffon embarked upon his hiatus with Paris Saint-Germain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was supposed to add Champions League glory to domestic dominance and now Juventus have neither.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo's individual form has remained imperious. In 127 appearances for the Bianconceri, he has 97 goals at a rate of a goal every 113 minutes.

FORWARD: KYLIAN MBAPPE

They were only together for a year but the France phenomenon is a performer to compare with many of the greats to have shared a dressing room with Buffon.

Fresh from 2018 World Cup success with France, Mbappe scored 39 goals in 43 appearances for PSG in 2018-19, averaging 90.25 minutes per goal and boasting a shot conversion rate of 22 per cent.

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    Get back... injuries

    It was the day before the start of the 2017-18 season, and Liverpool's campaign already felt like it had been thrown into chaos.

    Jurgen Klopp was getting ready for a trip to Watford when news broke that his star man Philippe Coutinho had handed in a transfer request, supposedly after the Reds had rejected a £90million bid from Barcelona.

    Liverpool ended up drawing 3-3 at Vicarage Road with new man Mohamed Salah scoring his first goal for the club in a game in which Coutinho did not feature, insisting that he had a sore back.

    The Brazilian was ultimately forced to stay until the January transfer window when he eventually sealed his dream move to the Camp Nou for a deal that, with add-ons, would amount to around £142million, a record for the Catalan club.

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    His numbers were up there with the rest of what remains to this day Liverpool's main front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, but back then he was part of what was briefly known as 'The Fab Four'. His minutes-per-goal record (one every 125.67 minutes) was second only to Salah (94.68) among those with one than one appearance, while he created more chances than anyone else (56).

    He did miss a few more games closer to the January transfer window through more apparent back issues, but scored one final screamer at Anfield against Swansea City in his last game for the club, coincidentally the same team he had scored his first Reds goal against in February 2013 after arriving from Inter Milan for just £8.5million.

    In his five years on Merseyside, Coutinho won the hearts of the Kop with his skill, his effort and increasingly, his end product, bagging 54 goals and 43 assists in 201 games for the club.

    However, it seemed his heart lay elsewhere, finally securing a move to Barcelona in January 2018.

    Philippe Cout-Iniesta?

    There was pressure on his shoulders immediately, arriving just a few months after the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, with much of the money Barca received being spent on prising Coutinho from Anfield.

    There was also talk that he was ultimately being tasked with replacing Andres Iniesta, who was to leave Barca at the end of the 2017-18 season, with taking over from such a club legend a formidable task for anyone.

    Coutinho did not start too badly in his first five months, scoring 10, assisting six and creating 33 chances in 22 appearances as Barca lifted the Spanish title and Copa del Rey.

    However, his first full season did not quite go according to plan, with Coutinho managing 11 goals and five assists in 54 appearances, actually scoring fewer than he had done in his final half-season at Liverpool. He created 59 chances, compared (admittedly cruelly) to the great Lionel Messi's 141 in fewer games across that 2018-19 campaign.

    Barca boss Ernesto Valverde did not seem to know what he wanted from Coutinho, sometimes playing him in Iniesta's old position in midfield, sometimes playing him in Neymar's old position out wide on the left. Coutinho was criticised by some for appearing to not be suited to either, despite the fact he fulfilled both well enough in the Premier League.

    To rub salt in the wounds, Coutinho would return to Anfield that season as part of a Barca side that capitulated in the Champions League semi-final, throwing away their 3-0 advantage from the first leg to crash out of the competition, with the Brazilian's old Liverpool team-mates going on to lift the trophy in Madrid a few weeks later.

    Bavarian adventure

    Despite progress not running smoothly for Coutinho, it was still a surprise for many to see Barca agree to loan him to Bayern Munich the following season. Antoine Griezmann had been signed from Atletico Madrid, which would have limited Coutinho's Camp Nou game time, so the hope was either that he would rediscover peak form in Germany, or at least do well enough that Barca could make some of their money back with a future transfer.

    He showed marginally more of his former self, scoring 11 and assisting nine in 38 appearances, albeit only 22 games from the start, while creating 50 chances, and 11 big chances. But it was difficult to stand out much in a team that included Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski.

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    One last shot

    Under Ronald Koeman, Coutinho was determined to finally make a success of his career back at Barcelona, and showed glimpses in the 14 games he managed in the 2020-21 season before injury struck as he suffered a torn meniscus, ending his campaign before the new year.

    It seemed one of the transfer market's worst kept secrets that Barca were open to selling Coutinho at the end of that season, among several other players, as financial woes mounted at the club, but there were understandably no takers given his form and injury issues.

    Both parties were left with no choice but to try again this season, and while he has been given chances, they have been sporadic, with just five starts and nine substitute appearances so far, registering two goals. Coutinho has yet to provide an assist, and he has only created two chances.

    Xavi is now in the hot seat at the Camp Nou, pledging to return a struggling team to the "Barca way", and he opened the door for Coutinho to perhaps have one last shot of establishing himself.

    "Coutinho is someone who can play in various positions, and he can be important for the team," Xavi told reporters ahead of his first match in charge against Espanyol.

    "He needs to re-find himself and recover his confidence. If he does, he will help us a lot. He has an innate talent. It depends on him. He will get chances because he's a player I like personally. It's more psychological than anything because he has talent."

    Anyone who watched Coutinho regularly at Liverpool will know there is a world-class player in there somewhere. Klopp was able to get a tremendous tune out of him despite not necessarily playing in a style that suits him, and with the player not even wanting to be there in the last few months.

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    He will just be hoping those opportunities don't come in the Europa League.

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