Juventus great Gianluigi Buffon expressed his hopes that Giorgio Chiellini can end his Bianconeri career on a high note by defeating Inter in the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday.

Massimiliano Allegri's Juve will look to defend their Coppa Italia crown at the Stadio Olimpico and become the fifth team in Europe's top five leagues to win their respective domestic cup at least 15 times.

The clash with Simone Inzaghi's Inter – who have won their last two games against Juve, as many wins as in the previous 13 (D4, L7) – could prove to be Chiellini's final swansong.

The veteran centre-back is widely expected to leave Turin at the end of the season and has been linked with a move to the MLS before using his vast experience to go into management.

Former team-mate Buffon marked his 685th and final appearance for Juve with victory over Atalanta in the Coppa Italia final last season, and the goalkeeper hopes Chiellini can follow suit.

"Chiello was my rock," Parma man Buffon told Italian outlet La Gazzetta dello Sport

"He was, and still is, a friend I shared a good chunk of my life with. Far more than a player or simply a team-mate. We understood each other perfectly, we were aware of our strengths and limitations.

"Chiello is so demanding with himself and others, he is an example of where intelligence, hard work, dedication and passion can let you reach unthinkable heights.

"He will admit, he was not the most technically gifted player, but I cannot think of a better defender over the last 10 years.

"I hope he can leave Juve the way I did by lifting the Coppa Italia trophy."

Another ex-Juve colleague Andrea Barzagli added that the Bianconeri will be significantly weakened without Chiellini to call upon.

"Even off the pitch, Chiellini gives a sense of belonging to Juve," Barzagli said.

"Looking at him, you understand what winning teams are made of; you need to be a great person before being a great player. He is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the club.

"He is a complete defender. If this is the end for him at Juve, then the team will miss his leadership."

Should Juve succeed against Inter, Allegri will become the first manager in Coppa Italia history to win the trophy five times, surpassing Sven-Goran Eriksson and Roberto Mancini (both four).

Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon was surprised by the club's decision not to renew the contract of attacker Paulo Dybala.

However, the 44-year-old, now at Serie B side Parma, does not believe the Bianconeri have made a mistake in letting Dybala leave, noting the improvement Juventus have made under Massimiliano Allegri.

The club confirmed last month Dybala would be allowed to leave at the end of his contract in June, despite the Argentina international recording 13 goal involvements (eight goals, five assists) in 23 Serie A appearances this season.

Among Juve players, only Alvaro Morata (also eight goals and five assists), can match the 28-year-old's output this term.

"I didn't expect it," Buffon told La Stampa of Dybala's departure. "But the club was direct and honest. 

"They didn't renew his contract because they consider him not functional to the project, not because he is poor. 

"He will do great things, but it does not mean that Juve made a mistake. The camp says the group is improving."

Juventus have played their way into title contention after picking up more points in the second half of the Serie A season than any other side (28), while their six-point gap to leaders Milan is the closest the Old Lady have been to the summit since August.

Their quest for a 10th title in 11 years sees them face Bologna on Saturday, against whom Dybala, who is being strongly linked with rivals Inter, has seven goals and one assist in 11 Serie A matches.

 

Buffon was also asked about the fortunes of the Italy national team after Roberto Mancini's European champions failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup, falling to a humiliating play-off loss to North Macedonia in qualifying last month.

Buffon, who won 176 caps for the Azzurri and starred as they won the 2006 World Cup, said Mancini must carry responsibility for their struggles despite leading Italy to Euro 2020 glory.

"He was the architect of the Azzurri renaissance, but he has some responsibility," Buffon said of Mancini. 

"There is a way and a way... if you lose on penalties to Portugal, it is one thing, North Macedonia is tougher [to justify]. 

"Already in 2010 I realised that things were changing, that we should have celebrated the qualifications. We lack quality and nastiness. If motivated, we give our best; otherwise, we can lose to anyone."

Gianluigi Donnarumma will only grow stronger following his error against Real Madrid and remains one of the top three goalkeepers in the world, according to Gianluigi Buffon.

Paris Saint-Germain were eliminated from the Champions League in rather humiliating circumstances on Wednesday as they let slip a two-goal aggregate lead to lose 3-2.

PSG looked comfortable at the Santiago Bernabeu with an hour played, only for a Donnarumma mistake to gift Madrid the first of their three goals in a 17-minute comeback.

The Italy international effectively passed the ball straight to Vinicius Junior when under pressure close to his own goal and hat-trick hero Karim Benzema converted the cutback.

Donnarumma argued he was fouled by Benzema in the lead-up to his costly error in the last-16 second leg, but the goal was allowed to stand and Madrid did not look back.

But while the former Milan keeper has come in for heavy criticism for his display, Buffon insists his compatriot has the right mentality to respond.

"Mistakes like this will serve him; they are part of his growth path," Buffon told Corriere dello Sport. "I'm sure it won't have any negative repercussions, any problems for him.

"Besides, he's already shown he has the necessary strength to overcome delicate moments in his career. He's too solid to allow himself to be influenced by all this.

"He's one of the best in the world, among the top three along with Thibaut Courtois and Manuel Neuer. I have to say that otherwise I'm accused of being partisan!"

 

PSG have been eliminated from four of their nine Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg – only Madrid (six times) have a worse record in the competition.

Donnarumma played both legs of the tie, but he has had to share goalkeeping duties with Keylor Navas this season, starting 18 games compared to the latter's 21.

The 23-year-old, who starred for Italy in their triumphant Euro 2020 campaign last year, has conceded 14 goals and kept eight clean sheets across those 18 appearances.

His 4.9 goals prevented – worked out by taking away the number of goals conceded from expected goals on target conceded – is among the best in Europe's elite leagues.

Only eight others boast a better return when taking all competitions into account, a metric led by Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has prevented 9.8 goals.

Courtois has a slightly better record than Donnarumma with 5.5 goals prevented, while Neuer – the other keeper referenced by Buffon – has let in 2.9 goals more than expected.

 

Taking aim at Donnarumma's critics, Buffon added: "Errors from goalkeepers are normal. Gigi can still give a lot for PSG. One or two mistakes a season are psychological.

"He made an unpopular choice joining PSG, but it must be respected. He wanted to fuel his ambition, something many didn't like. 

"They're the people who were waiting for this mistake. The problem is not the French who are enjoying it, but the Italians who were waiting for that."

Gianluigi Buffon has signed a contract extension with Parma that will keep him at the club until June 2024.

The veteran goalkeeper made his Parma debut back in 1995, aged 17, and after two spells with Juventus and a season with Paris Saint-Germain he returned to the Stadio Ennio Tardini last year.

Italy great Buffon, who has made a record 176 appearances for the Azzurri, has appeared 23 times for Parma in Serie B this season, with Giuseppe Iachini's side currently in 13th.

His efforts have since been rewarded with a one-year extension, meaning he will continue playing football past the age of 46.

Parma president Kyle Krause announced Buffon's renewal at a news conference on Monday.

"I have great news, Gigi has renewed his contract until 2024," Krause said. "He is a great player, a pride for us: Gigi has a great passion for Parma, we are very happy for his support and his commitment."

Buffon lifted the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and an unlikely UEFA Cup in 1998-99 with Parma before leaving for Juve in 2001.

His glittering career in Turin included 11 league championships – one of which came when they topped Serie B in 2006-07, Buffon having stayed at the club despite their relegation due to the Calciopoli scandal.

The 44-year-old also won five Coppa Italia titles and six Supercoppa Italiana crowns.

Buffon reached three Champions League finals with the Bianconeri, losing each one, before a brief spell at PSG preceded his return to the Allianz Stadium in 2019.

A winner of the 2006 World Cup, Italy's record cap holder made his final international appearance in a friendly with Argentina in March 2018.

In a wide-spanning career, Buffon has appeared 953 times at club level, which totals at a mammoth 85,286 minutes of action for his 404 clean sheets and 798 goals conceded.

He has managed 2,001 minutes on the pitch in the league for Parma this season, conceding 23 goals, as many appearances as he has made, while earning just the one shutout.

Buffon will hope to deliver his second clean sheet in Serie B at Monza on Wednesday.

Gianluigi Buffon believes some Juventus players were not ready for the increased demands that came with Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival.

Ronaldo brought an end to a three-season stay in Turin when he returned to Manchester United early in 2021-22.

He scored 101 goals across 134 matches in all competitions for the Bianconeri.

During Ronaldo's stint, Juve won the Scudetto in his first two seasons but missed out to Inter in 2020-21, despite the 36-year-old's league-high 29 goals.

That made Ronaldo, who is also the all-time leading scorer in men's international football, the first player to finish top of the scoring charters in Serie A, LaLiga and the Premier League.

Buffon previously suggested Ronaldo somewhat hampered his former side, but the Parma goalkeeper has retracted that opinion as he questioned whether some Juve players were ready for Ronaldo's arrival.

"I said that a certain DNA had been lost with him because I think so, and on deeper reflection, I can say that clearly it's not Cristiano’s fault," Buffon told Italian outlet Corriere della Sera.

"He is a top player and when you sign a player of that calibre you know what you're getting into.

"You have to understand if the others are prepared and in my opinion, many players weren't ready to share a certain type of experience. Whether you like it or not, this should never happen, especially in a club like Juve.

"When he arrived in Turin, I went to Paris. And when I came back I saw something different, that didn’t remind me of what I had left behind."

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has managed 14 goals for United on his return in all competitions this season. Indeed, after scoring one and assisting another against Burnley on Thursday, the Portugal international has now reached double figures for goal involvements in his last 17 league seasons.

Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala have faced the thankless task of replacing the evergreen Ronaldo at Juve, but Buffon believes the latter's progress has been stunted due to ongoing injury issues.

"He is definitely a technical leader because he is Juve's best player and then in recent years he has matured a lot," Buffon said of Dybala.

"To be able to play this role, however, you have to be there and in the last two years he has been absent a lot because of injuries. The moment he finds consistency, he will be consecrated as a leader of Juve."

Cristiano Ronaldo's decision to leave Juventus and rejoin Manchester United is not a surprise in the view of the superstar forward's former team-mate Gianluigi Buffon.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo finalised his return to United last Tuesday for an initial fee of £12.9million (€15m), signing a two-year contract with the option of a third.

That brought an end to the Portugal captain's three-season stay at the Allianz Stadium, during which time he scored 101 goals across 134 matches in all competitions.

Ronaldo's stint in Turin was rather more mixed on the trophy front as Juventus won the Scudetto in his first two seasons but missed out to Inter in 2020-21, despite the 36-year-old's league-high 29 goals.

That made Ronaldo, who last week became the all-time leading scorer in men's international football, the first ever player to finish as top scorer in Serie A, LaLiga and the Premier League.

Juve also fell short in the Champions League each time, including a shock last-16 exit to Porto last season, which ultimately played a part in the end-of-season sacking of Andrea Pirlo.

The Bianconeri have since reappointed Massimiliano Allegri, and Buffon – who spent two seasons with Ronaldo at Juve – believes the ex-Real Madrid player's decision to take on another challenge makes sense.

"I don't think the fans should be surprised," he told Radio anch'io. "He has the reputation of a great professional who rightly thinks about himself a lot.

"In these three years he has contributed with great performances and scored many goals. I don't see anything illogical in his choice to leave, he thought a lot about it.

"Juve are in a transition period. You pay a bit when these things happen. When you have a coach like Allegri, maybe you don't reach the target, but you get close to it."

 

Ronaldo was not the only high-profile name to depart Serie A during the most recent transfer window, with Gianluigi Donnarumma swapping Milan for Paris Saint-Germain.

Donnarumma missed just five league games for Milan over the past five campaigns, establishing himself as one of the world's best goalkeepers, but he has yet to feature for his new club.

The Italy international was late returning to training after being given an extended break on the back of Italy's successful Euro 2020 campaign and is now playing second fiddle to Keylor Navas.

Legendary Italian keeper Buffon, who spent a solitary season at PSG between spells with Juve, can understand why Donnarumma decided to leave boyhood club Milan.

"The choices of a lad, who is also a professional, must be respected," he said. "After years in which he has not played at certain stages, he has chosen to go.

"We are talking about a boy who has years and years left in his career, looking for the gratifications that I found.

"Paris Saint-Germain have one of their strengths in goal and that's why Keylor Navas is playing. I don't think Gigio will have problems being a reference."

Cristiano Ronaldo will be playing back at Old Trafford in 2021-22 after Manchester United confirmed his signing from Juventus.

The Portugal great has returned in a deal worth up to €23million (£19.7m), which was sensationally agreed with Juve on Friday.

For a short while, it looked as though Ronaldo – who had asked to leave the Bianconeri – was heading to Manchester City after they missed out on the signing of Harry Kane.

Instead, he is heading back to the red side of Manchester.

With the deal now finalised, Stats Perform takes a look at other greats who went back to their former homes, starting with the Portugal captain...

Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United

Ronaldo spent six years at Old Trafford during his previous spell, arriving as a lanky teenager who loved a stepover and leaving as a Ballon d'Or winner and ice-cold finisher. His then-world-record move to Real Madrid had been a long time coming and he spent nine years at the Santiago Bernabeu, becoming the club's all-time top scorer as he continued his transition from winger to out-and-out 'number nine'. There he won four Champions League titles before moving on to Juve, for whom he plundered 81 goals in 98 Serie A matches and picked up two Scudetti. But now he is returning to England. Whether he can match the standards he set last time remains to be seen, with his 31-goal haul of 2007-08 only bettered once in a 38-match season, but United fans will be convinced he can fire them to a first league title since Ferguson left.

Juan Roman Riquelme – Boca Juniors

Synonymous with Boca Juniors, Riquelme made his professional debut for the Buenos Aires giants and returned to the club for the majority of his final years as a player, following spells with Barcelona and Villarreal. After a breakdown in his relationship with Manuel Pellegrini, Riquelme – the classic number 10 – returned to Boca initially on loan in 2007, going on to stay until 2014. He helped Boca win the Copa Libertadores in 2007, the Recopa Sudamericana a year later, Apertura titles in 2008 and 2011 and the Copa Argentina in 2011-12. He is currently Boca's vice-president.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Milan

After a difficult spell under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Ibrahimovic – who had excelled at both Juventus and Inter – moved back to Italy, joining the Nerrazurri's city rivals Milan on loan for 2010-11. He became an instant star for the Rossoneri, picking up where he left off in Italy with 21 goals, a tally he bettered in 2011-12, scoring 35 times in all competitions. Paris Saint-Germain came calling and he went on to become the Ligue 1 giants' record goalscorer (a title now held by Edinson Cavani), before joining Manchester United and LA Galaxy. Despite being in his late 30s, Ibrahimovic still had more to offer and rejoined Milan for the back half of the 2019-20 campaign, netting 11 goals. He carried on his form into an injury hit 2020-21, scoring a further 16 times, and he is set to be a pivotal figure at San Siro once again this season.

Romelu Lukaku – Chelsea

Part of United's reasoning behind signing Ronaldo was to perhaps ensure they kept pace with their title rivals. For the past two seasons, Ronaldo has gone head-to-head with Lukaku in Serie A. Though Ronaldo won the battle last season, scoring 29 league goals, compared to Lukaku's 24, it was the Belgian who won the war by leading Inter to the title, and now the duo will face off again in the Premier League after Chelsea smashed their transfer record to re-sign the 28-year-old 10 years on from his initial arrival from Anderlecht. Lukaku did not manage to push himself into the starting XI back then and was loaned out to West Brom and Everton, before moving to Goodison Park on a permanent deal in 2014. He returns to Stamford Bridge as the complete package, however, and bullied Arsenal's defence on his second debut, scoring the opener in a 2-0 win for the European champions.

Didier Drogba – Chelsea

Part of the allure for Lukaku returning to Chelsea was to emulate his icon Drogba, who left Stamford Bridge after helping the Blues clinch a Champions League crown in 2012. The Ivorian went back to west London in the 2014-15 season, with Drogba explaining he could not turn down the chance to work with Jose Mourinho once again. He scored four league goals in 28 appearances to help Chelsea win the title, before heading off for a swansong in MLS with the Montreal Impact.

Thierry Henry – Arsenal

Another Premier League great, Henry rejoined Arsenal on a short-term loan deal at the start of 2012. He scored on his second debut against Leeds United in the FA Cup, converting his only attempt of the game in a 22-minute cameo from the bench. He went on to play a further six times, scoring in the Premier League against Sunderland, before he returned to the New York Red Bulls to round off a wonderful career.

Carlos Tevez – Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham were by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Man United and City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca," was Maradona's assessment upon the forward's return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021 and it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Wayne Rooney – Everton

With Lukaku joining Man United in 2017, it opened the door for Everton to bring back Rooney, who had left his boyhood club in 2004 on the back of a stellar performance at Euro 2004. Then just 18, Rooney went on to become United's record goalscorer – and England's, too – and he returned to Goodison Park for the 2017-18 season. He scored on his league debut, heading in the winner against Stoke City, and though he netted 11 times in total for the Toffees, a difficult season saw Ronald Koeman sacked and replaced with Sam Allardyce, who was subsequently shuffled out of the door for Marco Silva. With Everton looking to go in a new direction, Rooney left to join MLS side DC United in 2018.

Gianluigi Buffon – Parma

Buffon likes a comeback. Having returned for a second spell at Juventus in 2019, the goalkeeping great departed the club for a second time at the end of 2020-21. The Italy legend had not finished playing yet, though, and Parma quickly emerged as a potential destination despite their relegation to Serie B. After a few weeks of contemplation, it was confirmed that Buffon was heading back to the club where he made his name. Now 43, the iconic stopper is wearing Gialloblu for the first time in 20 years, and he is set to remain with them until he turns 45, given he signed a two-year contract. What happens after that is anyone's guess, but calling it a day with his first club could be a satisfyingly romantic conclusion to a remarkable career – that or he ends up at Juve again!

He is back where he belongs.
He is back home. #SupermanReturns @gianluigibuffon @Kyle_J_Krause @ParmaCalcio_en pic.twitter.com/bh2FO6P8YX

— Parma Calcio 1913 (@1913parmacalcio) June 17, 2021

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to be playing back at Old Trafford again in 2021-22 after Manchester United confirmed they have reached an agreement with Juventus for the transfer of the Portugal great.

While personal terms, a medical and visa are still to be sorted out for Ronaldo, it would take something remarkable to stop him from joining now after a deal reportedly worth up to €23million (£19.7m) was agreed with Juve on Friday.

For a short while it looked as though Ronaldo – who had asked to leave the Bianconeri – was heading to Manchester City after they missed out on the signing of Harry Kane.

But apparent interventions from Ronaldo's former United manager Alex Ferguson and old team-mate Rio Ferdinand may have swung the race in the Red Devils' favour.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemed to open the door to Ronaldo during his news conference on Friday, and just a few hours later United confirmed a deal had been struck with Juventus.

Following confirmation of the deal, Stats Perform takes a look at greats who went back to their spiritual home, starting with the Portugal captain…

Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United

Ronaldo spent six years at Old Trafford during his last spell, arriving as a lanky teenager who probably averaged four stepovers per minute before leaving as a Ballon d'Or winner and an ice-cold finisher. His then-world record move to Real Madrid had been a long time coming and he spent nine years at the Santiago Bernabeu, becoming the club's all-time top scorer as he continued his transition from winger to out-and-out 'number nine'. There he won four Champions League titles before moving on to Juve, for whom he plundered 81 goals in 98 Serie A matches and picked up two Scudetti. But now he is all set for a return to England – whether he can match the standards he set last time remains to be seen, with his 31-goal haul of 2007-08 only bettered once in a 38-match season, though United fans will be convinced he can fire them to a first league title since Ferguson left.

 

Arjen Robben – Groningen

Robben's first retirement lasted just a single season, having announced last year he would be returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern Munich finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his availability, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances in 2020-21. Club director Mark-Jan Fledderus wanted him to stay on for another year, but when Robben said at the end of the season that he was going to have a long think about his future, the writing was seemingly on the wall. Another U-turn appears unlikely.

Juan Roman Riquelme – Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt – Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez – Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He was expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca this season, but the deal ultimately fell through.

Henrik Larsson – Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move away. A trophy laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez – Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Man Utd and City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca," was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021 and it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Gianluigi Buffon – Parma

Buffon likes a comeback. Having returned for a second spell at Juventus in 2019, the goalkeeping great departed the club for a second time at the end of 2020-21. The Italy legend suggested he had not finished playing yet and Parma quickly emerged as a potential destination despite their recent relegation to Serie B. After a few weeks of contemplation, it was confirmed that Buffon was heading back to the club where he made his name. Now 43, the iconic stopper is wearing Gialloblu for the first time in 20 years, and he is set to remain with them until he turns 45, given he signed a two-year contract. What happens after that is anyone's guess but calling it a day with his first club could be a satisfyingly romantic conclusion to a remarkable career – that or he ends up at Juve again!

He is back where he belongs.
He is back home. #SupermanReturns @gianluigibuffon @Kyle_J_Krause @ParmaCalcio_en pic.twitter.com/bh2FO6P8YX

— Parma Calcio 1913 (@1913parmacalcio) June 17, 2021

Arjen Robben's playing days are officially over (again), with the Bayern Munich and Netherlands great confirming on Thursday that he is hanging up his boots.

Of course, this is not the first time Robben has made such a decision – he initially retired in 2019 after a decade with Bayern before returning to his first club Groningen.

Although the fairy-tale conclusion he may have hoped for never quite materialised, ending his career where it all began has seen his playing days come full circle.

In honour of Robben's retirement, Stats Perform takes a look at greats who have gone back to their spiritual home in the twilight stages, starting with an overview of the king of inverted wingers…

Arjen Robben - Groningen

Robben's first retirement lasted just a single season, having announced last year he would be returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his availability, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances. Club director Mark-Jan Fledderus wanted him to stay on for another year, but when Robben said at the end of the season that he was going to have a long think about his future, the writing was seemingly on the wall. Another U-turn appears unlikely.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt - Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez - Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He is expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca next season.

Juan Pablo Angel - Atletico Nacional

Angel perhaps never quite lived up to the expectations he set during his early days as part of River Plate's so-called 'Fantastic Four' with Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar, having joined from Colombia's Nacional. Nevertheless, he became a fan favourite at Aston Villa in the Premier League, before spending six years in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. In 2013 he returned to Nacional for two seasons, having left them in 1997. He called it quits in late 2014, just a few days after losing to his former club River in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. "I am ending my career with a final between the two clubs I love the most," he said.

Henrik Larsson - Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move to Helsingborgs. A trophy-laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Manchester United and Manchester City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca" was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021, though it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Gianluigi Buffon - Parma

Okay, he is not technically retired yet, so perhaps Buffon does not strictly qualify here. However, after departing Juventus for the second time at the end of 2020-21, the Italy great suggested he had not finished playing just yet. Parma quickly emerged as a potential destination despite their recent relegation to Serie B, and after a few weeks of contemplation, it was confirmed that Buffon was heading back to the club. Now 43, the iconic goalkeeper will wear the Gialloblu for the first time in 20 years, and he is set to remain with them until he turns 45, given he signed a two-year contract. What happens after that is anyone's guess but calling it a day with his first club could be a satisfyingly romantic conclusion.

He is back where he belongs.
He is back home. #SupermanReturns @gianluigibuffon @Kyle_J_Krause @ParmaCalcio_en pic.twitter.com/bh2FO6P8YX

— Parma Calcio 1913 (@1913parmacalcio) June 17, 2021

Playing alongside Gianluigi Donnarumma is similar to playing with Gianluigi Buffon, according to Leonardo Bonucci, one of Italy's Euro 2020 heroes.

Donnarumma saved two penalties in a 3-2 shootout success over England in the final on Sunday, as Italy became European champions for the second time after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.

The 22-year-old, who is set to join Paris Saint-Germain following the expiration of his Milan contract, denied Jadon Sancho before keeping out Bukayo Saka's penalty, which the Arsenal teenager needed to convert to keep England's hopes alive.

It sent the Wembley crowd from euphoria to despondency, with Jordan Pickford having just kept England in it with his second save of the shootout – the Everton goalkeeper parrying Jorginho's effort onto the post.

Italy have now won six major international tournaments, while they became the first team to win two shootouts in the same edition of a European Championship.

Donnarumma, meanwhile, has won all five of the shootouts he has been involved in with club and country so far in his career, and Bonucci, who scored the equalising goal to cancel out Luke Shaw's opener, compared the youngster to an Azzurri legend.

"I was lucky because I played with Gianluigi Buffon, now I play with Gigi Donnarumma – it is the same!" Bonucci told ITV Sport.

Along with fellow veteran campaigner Giorgio Chiellini, who at 36 years and 331 days is now the third-oldest player to appear in a European Championship final, Bonucci put in a towering display at the back for Italy.

Kept under wraps by Italy's wily defenders, England talisman Harry Kane failed to muster a shot or create a goal-scoring chance for only the second time in his 61 appearances for the Three Lions.

In the build-up to Sunday's showdown, Chiellini revealed Italy's squad were puzzled when Roberto Mancini outlined his intention to win Euro 2020 upon taking charge three years ago, but the Azzurri have been a joy to watch at the tournament and ultimately deserved their triumph, even if it came the hard way. Indeed, Shaw's opener was the quickest goal scored in a European Championship final.

"Anything is possible," added Bonucci, who became Italy's outright top appearance maker at the European Championship with what was his 18th game in the competition.

"England scored after two minutes, it was difficult to ask, all of the fans give their energy into the battle. It was important to be calm, we start to play, play, play and play. We were calm at the end of the first half, we talked altogether – we have to play, play, play. We find the right pass, find the right shot, this is the way to win.

"History. It is a dream come true. We feel some magic when we started this stage. We feel inside to come to Wembley, it is so difficult. We are more than happy. We see the image of [Fabio] Cannavaro holding up the World Cup – we are lucky."

In a move that football purists, romanticists and aficionados of 1990s Serie A will be excited by, Gianluigi Buffon is returning to Parma after 20 years away.

Buffon came through the club's academy in the early '90s and made 220 appearances for them in all competitions, winning the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and UEFA Cup during a six-year spell in the first-team.

Juventus made Buffon the world's most-expensive goalkeeper at the time when they paid €52million for him in 2001 and he played 685 times for them across two spells, 20 short of Alessandro Del Piero's club record.

Nevertheless, Buffon's longevity has ensured he is the record holder for the most Serie A appearances (657) and titles (10) in the league's history.

After leaving Juve at the end of the 2020-21 season, it was unclear what would be next for Buffon, but links with Parma began to stir despite their relegation to Serie B.

And on Thursday the club confirmed Buffon is back. While the days of challenging for major honours are long gone for Parma, the goalkeeping great represents a coup and the kind of transfer that tugs at heartstrings.

In honour of Buffon's momentous return, Stats Perform takes a look at other greats who've gone back to their spiritual home to close out their career.

Arjen Robben - Groningen

Arjen Robben's retirement lasted just a single season, as the Netherlands and Bayern Munich great announced last year that he was returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his season, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances. It's unclear if he'll play on into 2021-22, though either way it's safe to assume Groningen will be where he retires once and for all.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt - Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez - Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He is expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca next season.

Juan Pablo Angel - Atletico Nacional

Angel perhaps never quite lived up to the expectations he set during his early days as part of River Plate's so-called 'Fantastic Four' with Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar, having joined from Colombia's Nacional. Nevertheless, he became a fan favourite at Aston Villa in the Premier League, before spending six years in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. In 2013 he returned to Nacional for two seasons, having left them in 1997. He called it quits in late 2014, just a few days after losing to his former club River in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. "I am ending my career with a final between the two clubs I love the most," he said.

Henrik Larsson - Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move to Helsingborgs. A trophy-laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Manchester United and Manchester City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca" was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021, though it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Gianluigi Buffon has returned to Parma, the club where he began his senior career 20 years ago.

The veteran goalkeeper left Juventus at the end of the 2020-21 season and was reportedly approached by Turkish Super Lig giants Besiktas, and Flamengo.

The Italy great has instead chosen to return to Stadio Ennio Tardini, where he developed as a youth and spent six years in the senior team after making his debut back in 1995 at the age of 17, keeping a clean sheet against a Milan side featuring the likes of Roberto Baggio and George Weah.

Roberto D'Aversa, the Parma head coach, was a teenager on the Rossoneri's books at the time.

Parma announced the return of their "superman" via a video released on Twitter, showing Buffon digging up a time capsule buried beneath one of the goals at the famous old ground.

Buffon won the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and famously the 1998-99 UEFA Cup with Parma before leaving for Juve in 2001.

His glittering career in Turin included 11 league titles – one of which came when they topped Serie B in 2006-07, Buffon having stayed at the club despite their relegation due to the Calciopoli scandal.

Buffon also won five Coppe Italia, most recently last season, and six Supercoppe Italiana. He reached three Champions League finals with Juve, losing each one.

He spent 2018-19 with Paris Saint-Germain, winning Ligue 1 and the Trophee des Champions, before returning to the Allianz Stadium two years ago.

A winner of the 2006 World Cup, Buffon's 176 Italy caps is a record for the Azzurri, his final appearance coming in a friendly with Argentina in March 2018.

Buffon, who turns 44 next January, will spend 2021-22 in Serie B, Parma having been relegated last season after winning just three games.

 

Gianluigi Buffon is considering several options as he plans to carry on playing, with the veteran goalkeeper heavily linked with a return to Parma.

Buffon announced he would be ending his second stint with Juventus following the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, though has made clear he is not ready to retire just yet.

The 43-year-old – who won 176 caps for Italy – has revealed he has offers from clubs set to compete in the Champions League, as well as the possibility of returning to his "origins".

It has been widely reported in the Italian media that Parma are close to tempting their former player back to potentially end his illustrious career where it all started.

Spanish heavyweights Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have also been linked with Buffon, who intends to reveal his future plans this week.

"On the table I have many proposals that touch different keys," he said when speaking to the Italian media on Monday.

"There are teams that make the Champions League and have offered me a leading role, others that aspire to win it but want me as a secondary option, and I only did that role for Juve.

"Then there would be the return to my origins, which produces different feelings and gives me the motivation I need to do well.

"I'm putting everything on the table and in three or four days I will decide, I have to figure out which is the best thing to be a leading protagonist."

Buffon came through Parma's academy in the early 1990s and went on to play over 200 games for them across all competitions. 

Juve made him the world's most expensive goalkeeper at the time in 2001, costing in the region of €52million. He left in 2018 to join Paris Saint-Germain, though headed back to Turin the following year.

During his time with Parma, Buffon won the the Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup and Supercoppa Italiana. However, a return would see him plying his trade in Serie B following their relegation from the top flight.

Achraf Hakimi is a player in demand following his first season with Inter.

Hakimi helped Inter to Serie A glory for the first time in 10 years, but his future could be away from San Siro.

Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly determined to beat Chelsea and Bayern Munich to the full-back.

 

TOP STORY – PSG CHASING HAKIMI

Paris Saint-Germain remain interested in signing Inter star Achraf Hakimi, according to Gianluca Di Marzio.

PSG had a €60million (£51m) bid turned down by Serie A champions Inter, who are facing financial problems due to the coronavirus pandemic amid speculation over stars Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Alessandro Bastoni and Hakimi.

Ligue 1 giants PSG are still keen on Hakimi as Champions League winners Chelsea hold talks with the Morocco international's agent, while Bayern Munich have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

Bernardo Silva wants to leave Premier League champions Manchester City, reports Duncan Castles. The Portugal international has already been linked with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona after finding himself out of favour under Pep Guardiola.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Gianluigi Buffon is close to re-joining Parma. Buffon will leave Juventus in the off-season and the Italy great is reportedly on track to return to Parma, where the 43-year-old emerged from the youth team in 1995 before eventually moving to Turin in 2001. Parma were relegated from Serie A in 2020-21.

Arsenal have turned their attention to Real Betis attacker Nabil Fekir but Diario AS says the Gunners and LaLiga side remain apart in his transfer valuation.

- Calciomercato claims there are still concerns over Paulo Dybala's future at Juventus. Dybala is out of contract in 2022 and no closer to renewing after struggling for game time. The possible departure of Cristiano Ronaldo – who has been linked with PSG and Manchester United – could solidify Dybala's position in Turin.

Leicester City are the latest team to join the race for Salzburg's Patson Daka, according to the Mirror. Liverpool, Chelsea and RB Leipzig have also been linked.

- The Mirror reports Everton and Leeds United are considering moves for veteran Real Madrid star Marcelo.

Gianluigi Buffon remains undecided on his future after leaving Juventus, suggesting he will not make any decisions until June.

The 43-year-old, who won 176 caps for Italy between 1997 and 2018, recently announced his decision to leave the Bianconeri but has not yet settled on whether he will continue playing or retire.

Buffon re-joined Juve two years ago having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, but over the course of his second spell he was second choice to Wojciech Szczesny.

He made his last appearance for the club in this month's 2-1 Coppa Italia final victory over Atalanta, lifting one last piece of silverware.

Since joining Juventus from Parma in 2001, Buffon has won 10 Serie A titles and made more appearances in Italy's top-flight (657) than any other player.

But he has vowed to take a two-week break to reflect, adamant he has to feel enthusiastic about playing if he is to continue his career into 2021-22.

"I've decided to take a break for 15 days," he told Canale 5.

"I want to think carefully about what to do and in the most appropriate way because if I decide to follow a path, I must have motivation and enthusiasm, otherwise it is better to stop.

"I'm not in a hurry because I'm a serene person. It requires thought. There are certain moments in which you have to take a step back instead of taking one step forward that is too risky.

"It was the right thing and the ending was worth it. I became a man at Juve, even though I was a boy."

Buffon's first club Parma have been mentioned as a potential destination despite their relegation to Serie B.

He came through Parma's academy in the early 1990s and went on to play over 200 games for them across all competitions before Juve made him the world's most expensive goalkeeper at the time in 2001, costing in the region of €52million.

During his six years in the Parma senior team, he helped them win the Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup and Supercoppa Italiana.

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