Gianluigi Buffon revealed Nicolo Barella will undergo further tests ahead of Euro 2024, but believes the injured midfielder could replicate Gennaro Gattuso's exploits during Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph.

The Inter midfielder, who has been named in Luciano Spalletti's final squad for the forthcoming European Championship in Germany, was absent from Tuesday's goalless draw with Turkiye with a minor muscle problem.

Former goalkeeper Buffon, now Italy's head of delegation, played a key role in the side that triumphed at the World Cup 18 years ago, and what was the last major international tournament to be played on German soil.

Meanwhile, after missing the 2-0 victory over Ghana in their tournament opener through injury, Gattuso was a constant in the middle of the park thereon as Marcelo Lippi's side landed their fourth World crown.

And while he could still make Italy's first game in Group B against Albania on June 15, Buffon feels Barella could play a similar role to the former Milan central midfielder.

"I hope he will be like Gattuso at the [2006] World Cup," Buffon said. "He missed the first game, but then he became a protagonist. Yet, in the beginning, they wanted to send him home!

“Nicolo will undergo further tests, but he could already be available against Albania.”

Italy, who will also play Spain and Croatia in Group B, complete their preparations for the tournament against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday.

The Azzurri have already seen Francesco Acerbi and Giorgio Scalvini withdraw from the squad through injury, while Lorenzo Pellegrini limped off against Turkiye and was seen on the bench with an icepack strapped to his knee.

Gianluigi Buffon believes Italy should be confident of going far at Euro 2024, despite being drawn into a difficult-looking group.

Reigning European champions Italy were placed into Group B during Saturday's draw in Hamburg.

That means Luciano Spalletti's team, who rather scraped through in qualifying, will go up against heavyweights Spain, 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Croatia and Albania.

While acknowledging the draw might have been kinder, former Italy stalwart Buffon – the most-capped player in his nation's history – was bullish about the Azzurri's chances.

"It was wonderful putting that trophy back in the circle, as we feel pride and responsibility going into this competition as reigning champions," Buffon told RAI Sport, as reported by Football Italia.

"Seeing as we were in pot four, a tough draw was always going to be probable.

"This group is a bit like the one we had at Euro 2012 with Spain, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. We went through second and reached the final.

"In the format this time, the four best third-placed sides qualify too, so that increases our chances. We are concerned, but the other teams won’t be jumping for joy at drawing Italy either.

"There will be time until June for this team to improve. In terms of individuals, there are three or four teams in the competition who have stronger squads, but when we are working as a single unit, with one mind, I don't know how many teams are really stronger than us."

Italy will open their campaign against Albania on June 15 in Dortmund, before facing Spain five days later and Croatia on June 24.

Coach Spalletti echoed Buffon's sentiments, albeit perhaps not with quite as much confidence.

"It could've gone better, but then we were in pot four. And never forget that we are Italy," he told RAI Sport.

"Anyone who loves this sport must enjoy the challenge, otherwise you lose all the pleasure of it.

"Within a match there are going to be various moments where the squad has to defend, even with 10 men around the edge of the box if necessary, but the intention is always to play attractive and attacking football."

It's fair to say Serie A sides have enjoyed themselves on the continental stage this season, with six Italian clubs reaching major European quarter-finals for the first time this century.

Three of those teams have been making waves in the Champions League, for which Luciano Spalletti's Napoli have been touted as genuine contenders after outscoring every other team in the competition.

Meanwhile, rivals Milan and Inter went about their last-16 assignments in quietly impressive fashion, seeing off Tottenham and Porto respectively, both winning 1-0 on aggregate.

With three of Italy's finest reaching the last eight, a first all-Italian Champions League meeting since 2005 was always highly probable, and so it proved with Milan and Napoli paired together.

With the winner of that tie set to face either Inter or Benfica in the semi-finals, the prospect of a first Italian Champions League winner since Inter's class of 2009-10 has perhaps never appeared more realistic.

Ahead of a blockbuster tie between last season's Serie A winners and their likely successors, Stats Perform looks back at the Champions League's previous all-Italian tussles.

Shevchenko decisive in tight derby double-header

Given the remarkable European pedigree enjoyed by seven-time European Cup/Champions League winners Milan, the fact that the Rossoneri have featured in all five previous all-Italian games in the competition is perhaps unsurprising. 

The first two of those came at the semi-final stage in the 2002-03 campaign, when Milan and Inter faced off in a tense double-header ultimately decided by a Rossoneri great.

Milan had reached the last four courtesy of Jon Dahl Tomasson's last-gasp strike against Ajax, while the Nerazzurri edged out Valencia on away goals.

Hector Cuper's men had less luck with that rule against their rivals, with Andriy Shevchenko's 'away' goal deciding a tie which ended 1-1 on aggregate – despite, of course, both legs being held at San Siro.

Inter's Obafemi Martins set up a tense finish after coming on as a substitute, but Carlo Ancelotti's team held on to reach a first final since 1995 – where they would face another domestic rival.

Dida wins battle of the goalkeepers at Old Trafford

Italian football's reputation for being risk-averse has not always been warranted, but given the way 2003's Champions League final between Milan and Juventus played out, that tag is perhaps understandable. 

Juve had already edged out both Milan giants to win Serie A by the time they faced the Rossoneri at Old Trafford, for what represented Marcello Lippi's fourth Champions League final with the Bianconeri (winning in 1996, losing in 1997, 1998 and 2003).

Both defences were on top throughout a nail-biting affair, with Shevchenko seeing a goal ruled out for offside and Antonio Conte rattling the crossbar as the game went to a penalty shoot-out.

With both goalkeepers clearly advancing off the goal line for each spot-kick, Gianluigi Buffon saved from Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze – only for Dida to go one better by denying David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero as Milan won their sixth European crown.

 

Dida in the spotlight again as violent scenes mar San Siro clash

Dida was again in the spotlight when two Italian sides last squared off in the Champions League – this time for all the wrong reasons.

The 2004-05 quarter-finals featured another heavyweight derby clash between Milan and Inter – who, as was the case two years earlier – finished the Serie A season in second and third respectively as Juventus triumphed.

Milan have always been Italy's European kings, however, and goals from Jaap Stam and Shevchenko put them in the ascendency as Ancelotti's men won the 'home' leg 2-0.

When Shevchenko's first-half effort put the Rossoneri ahead in the return game and Inter – now requiring four goals – saw an Esteban Cambiasso strike ruled out for a foul, the Nerazzurri supporters reacted furiously.

Flares rained down from the stands onto the San Siro pitch, with Dida struck on the shoulder and left requiring treatment for a burn.

Referee Markus Merk attempted to restart the game after a lengthy delay, but when Christian Abbiati was targeted with further missiles, the game was abandoned and Milan were awarded a 3-0 win, making it 5-0 on aggregate and leading to condemnation from across the continent. 

From a Milan point of view, the less said about their subsequent trip to Istanbul for the 2005 final against Liverpool, the better.

Holders Inter are through to the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia but had to survive a scare before eventually beating Serie B side Parma 2-1 after extra time at San Siro.

Stanko Juric's ferocious effort towards the end of the first half looked like it was going to be enough for Fabio Pecchia's team, before Lautaro Martinez found the equaliser with Inter's first shot on target in the 88th minute.

The Nerazzurri were holding on at times in extra time as well, before Francesco Acerbi won it with a fine header.

Simone Inzaghi made seven changes to the side that drew 2-2 at Monza on Saturday, with Danilo D'Ambrosio, Robin Gosens and Denzel Dumfries among those coming in, while Gianluigi Buffon started in goal for Parma, but the 44-year-old had very little to do for the first 87 minutes of the tie.

After a quiet opening, it was the Serie B side who took a surprise lead in the 38th minute when Adrian Bernabe's ball forward was flicked by Simon Sohm into the path of Juric, who had only been on the pitch for 12 minutes after replacing the injured Dennis Man, and he fired a rocket of a shot into the top right corner past the hopeful dive of Andre Onana.

As Inter continued to struggle to break Parma down in the second half, Inzaghi turned to his substitutes, including Edin Dzeko as he went for it with an attacking trio of the Bosnian alongside Martinez and Joaquin Correa, and it eventually paid off.

With just over two minutes of normal time remaining, a deep ball in from Kristjan Asllani was only cleared as far as Martinez, whose shot deflected off Yordan Osorio and past Buffon to the relief of the home fans and to force extra time, though not before the former Juventus keeper made a smart stop to deny Dzeko a late winner.

The impressive visitors took the game to Inter in the extra 30 minutes, with Antoine Hainaut firing just wide after intercepting a loose pass from Roberto Gagliardini, but Inter stepped it up in the second period and won it thanks to Acerbi after Buffon punched a Federico Dimarco cross straight to the waiting centre-back, who headed it back over him and into the net.

Gianfranco Zola joined a cast of Italy greats in paying tribute to Gianluca Vialli, after the former Juventus and Chelsea striker died at the age of 58.

As well as being team-mates with Italy and Chelsea, Zola and Vialli were also rivals on the pitch for a large part of their careers, with Zola a standout fantasista for Napoli and Vialli a figurehead forward for Sampdoria and Napoli.

Zola also had a spell of playing at Chelsea when Vialli became manager, and it was reported at the time he was unhappy with being given limited playing opportunities by his compatriot.

However, Zola said on Friday there was "the utmost respect" between the men, as he remembered Vialli in a poignant message.

Zola wrote: "Together we won many matches and shared some of the best moments of our lives.

"For the love of our ball we have often clashed. With no quarter, but always with the utmost respect.

"Because, in the end, we were always ourselves: two Italian boys and a ball. Goodbye Luca, fellow traveller."

Both were signed by Chelsea boss Ruud Gullit in 1996, at a time when high-profile foreign imports to the Premier League were still few and far between.

Vialli went on to become player-manager in 1998, giving up playing duties a year later before being sacked by chairman Ken Bates in September 2000.

In Italy, Vialli was a revered figure, shining alongside Roberto Mancini for Sampdoria before heading to Juventus in 1992, winning a Serie A title with both teams and a Champions League in 1996 with Juve.

He was skipper as Juventus beat Ajax on penalties to be crowned European champions, with that Juventus team including stars of the calibre of Antonio Conte, Alessandro Del Piero, Ciro Ferrara, Didier Deschamps and Fabrizio Ravanelli.

Del Piero posted on Instagram: "Our Captain. My Captain. Always. Goodbye Luca."

There was a similar message from Ravanelli, who wrote simply: "Goodbye captain."

Gianluigi Buffon, the former Italy goalkeeper, posted a picture of a Sampdoria shirt he had been given by Vialli.

"You were a giant, on the field and in life," Buffon wrote. "You fought to the end with your head held high with unique dignity. This shirt you gave me is priceless and every time I look at it I can't help but say thank you for everything you've done. The emptiness you leave is huge."

Former defender Ferrara added: "How can I let you go? You were like a brother."

Angelo Di Livio, the former Juventus and Fiorentina winger, told Tuttomercatoweb.com how Vialli had "made me grow both as a man and as a player".

Di Livio said: "Those who have not had the pleasure of meeting Gianluca have lost a lot, they have lost a real man, a great champion.

"We will always all be connected because he was our leader, our captain, perhaps the most important player in Lippi's first Juve who took us by the hand and led us to great victories, great triumphs."

Juventus great Gianluigi Buffon believes Paulo Dybala will benefit from joining Roma over Serie A rivals Inter.

Dybala had been strongly linked with a switch to San Siro after his contract with Juve, where he had spent the past seven seasons, expired.

However, Inter instead re-signed Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea, and the Argentina international then had a choice between Napoli and Roma, eventually opting for the latter on a three-year deal.

Buffon, who spent five seasons playing in the same side as Dybala in Turin, feels his former colleague made the right decision.

"Paulo had the right to choose after his exit from Juventus on a free transfer," Parma goalkeeper Buffon told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"In the past few weeks, Dybala could have gone to Inter, Roma or Napoli and I hoped he would have chosen either of the latter two. I hoped it for his career.

"Paulo needed an emotional shock and I was certain that only Roma and Napoli could have given that to him. I wrote it to him in a message and I am happy to see him at Roma."

 

Dybala has scored 103 goals in 299 outings in his decade in Serie A with Palermo and Juve, with the 22 goals he managed in the 2017-18 campaign his best single-season return.

The 28-year-old joins a Roma side that finished sixth last season but lifted the Europa Conference League trophy in Jose Mourinho's first year at the helm.

That made Roma the first Italian side to win a major European competition since Inter triumphed in the Champions League in 2010, also under Mourinho.

Dybala adds further depth to a squad that already contains the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham, who is delighted with the transfer coup.

"I think it's a privilege to have added a player that good to our team. It means a lot to the fans, who have received him very well," Abraham said.

"The message appears clear to me: the club is creating a great project and the results are clear."

Italy great Gianluigi Buffon has no plans to call quits on his playing career in the near future, joking "I could retire at 55".

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

Buffon, who has made a record 176 appearances for the Azzurri, played 26 times for Parma in Serie B in the 2021-22 season as they finished 12th in the Italian second tier.

The 2006 World Cup winner signed a one-year contract extension last season, meaning he will continue playing football past the age of 46 in 2024.

As Buffon prepares for his 28th season as a professional footballer, he suggested he has no desire to hang up his boots just yet.

"I could retire at 55!" he told reporters at a news conference in Ducali on Friday. "I played ten years in Parma in my first life, then twenty years at Juve, one in Paris and now I close the circle again in Emilia.

"And I'm not 100 years old. For ten years I have been thinking about when I will stop, but then I always continue.

"I have had important experiences that have allowed me to know football, but I'm not 100 per cent sure I'll stay in this world [when I do retire]. Maybe I'll experience something else."

Buffon has played alongside some of the finest footballers in the world during his glittering career, in which he has lifted 11 league titles, 14 domestic cups and an unlikely UEFA Cup with Parma in 1999.

The 44-year-old has also finished runner-up in the Champions League on three occasions, and puts Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe among the best players he has featured alongside.

"I can say the five strongest Italians: [Roberto] Baggio, [Francesco] Totti, [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Andrea] Pirlo and [Antonio] Cassano," he added. 

"For foreigners, I would say [Lillian] Thuram, Neymar, Mbappe, CR7 and Ibra [Zlatan Ibrahimovic]."

Wojciech Szczesny says playing with Cristiano Ronaldo made him feel like his side were starting matches a goal up, as he rued Juventus' failure to win the Champions League with the Portugual great.

Ronaldo scored 101 goals in 134 appearances in all competitions for Juve between 2018 and 2021, averaging a strike every 113.95 minutes and winning five trophies in Italy.

Juve stumbled to a second consecutive fourth-placed Serie A finish in the 2021-22 season after Ronaldo returned to Manchester United, who themselves toiled in the Premier League, finishing sixth with their worst points tally (58) in the competition, despite the striker's 18 top-flight goals.

Ronaldo failed to add to his five Champions League titles while representing the Bianconeri, and while Szczesny regrets their European exits to Ajax (2019), Lyon (2020) and Porto (2021), he remembers his time playing with the striker fondly.

"[He is] a brilliant footballer, who makes a difference not only on the pitch," Szczesny told Polish newspaper Przeglad Sportowy. "I don't know if there is anyone in the world at his level. 

"When he arrived, however, we didn't see him as a CR7, but as a team-mate. With him, however, I tried things that didn't exist. 

"Entering the field with him, even before the referee whistled for the start, it was like being 1-0 ahead. It was impressive.

"The Champions League was within our reach in the first two seasons, then we went out with teams we shouldn't have lost against. But this is the Champions League."

While Juventus' spell of dominance over Serie A has come crashing to a halt over the last two seasons after they won nine consecutive titles between 2012 and 2020, Szczesny believes Massimiliano Allegri and predecessor Andrea Pirlo did well to secure top-four finishes.

"Sooner or later, it had to end," he said. "After nine years of victories there was a generational change of players. 

"Changing always costs something. However, I believe that Pirlo and Allegri have done a great job getting to Champions League qualification."

Szczesny has made 137 league appearances for Juve since joining in 2017, keeping 50 clean sheets, and is keen to remain in Turin until his contract expires in 2025.

However, the former Arsenal goalkeeper does not expect to get close to the legendary Gianluigi Buffon's tally of 489 Serei A games in the Juventus goal, saying a move to Spain could be on the cards in three years' time.

"I still have three years on my contract and if they want to keep me, I would like to complete it," he added. "Every year there are market rumours, now I worry when new names do not come out for Juventus' goal!

"I won't play as much as he [Buffon] does. I want to stay at Juventus until 2025, then maybe I'll go to Spain where I have a home."

Gianluigi Buffon hopes his former club Juventus sign Angel Di Maria as he likened the Paris Saint-Germain attacker to Argentina great Diego Maradona.

Di Maria joined PSG from Manchester United in 2015 but is to leave the French capital at the expiration of his deal at the end of June.

Juve have reportedly offered Di Maria a one-year contract with the option of an additional one-season extension.

Reports suggest Di Maria is intent on staying in European football for just one more season, though, before playing at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and returning to compete in his native Argentina.

That is said to have led to a delay in negotiations between the 34-year-old and Massimiliano Allegri's side.

Former Juve goalkeeper Buffon encouraged the Bianconeri to push the deal through for Di Maria, with the Italy legend suggesting he would be as influential in Serie A as the late, great Maradona was with Napoli.

"Di Maria in Serie A is like Maradona," Buffon said to Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Footballers must be valued considering where they play. Serie A, today, is technically poorer and Angel has so much technique.

"He is decisive in front of goal, he dribbles past his opponents. He is good at making assists and runs up and down on the pitch. He can play in different roles."

Buffon is speaking from experience, having crossed paths with Di Maria at PSG in the 2018-19 campaign.

The Parma goalkeeper also suggested Di Maria is talented enough that age should not be a factor as Juve aim to secure the winger.

"I am 44, but I still play, age doesn't matter. Motivation and passion are more important and so is determination," he added. "If Di Maria joins Juventus, it means that he's ready to do so.

"He is an exemplary professional, one who never gives up and fights during games and training sessions. For today's Serie A, he'd be like Maradona.

"At PSG, I played with Neymar, a young Kylian Mbappe, Marco Verratti… but Di Maria was not inferior to no one.

"When he won the Decima [the 10th Champions League title] at [Real] Madrid in 2014, he was playing with Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

"He was always a step back from them but knew how to play as a winger, attacking midfielder and even 'Mezzala' [a wide central midfielder in a diamond or three-man midfield].

"Whoever signs him, and I hope it's Juve, it will be a good deal. We are talking about a champion."

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.

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 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

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