Crash Bandicoot and Ric Flair - it will be a long time before we see another Gianluigi Buffon

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The legendary Italian goalkeeper has announced his retirement from professional football

When Gianluigi Buffon made his debut for Parma in the November of 1995, Robson and Jerome were number one in the charts, the world was still reeling from the verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial, and I was a little under two months old. Hard cut to 2023 as the Italian goalkeeper announces his retirement from professional football and Robson Green has had to resort to extreme fishing in a bid for relevancy, Ford are selling more Broncos per annum (presumably many of them in shades of white) than at any other time in their history, and I am sat here, just shy of my 28th birthday, with terrible posture and a Weetabix knee, wondering what the hell we’re all supposed to do now.

Gigi, you see, has been omnipresent, ubiquitous, for the entirety of my conscious life. Like Internet Explorer or the frappuccino, to people of my generation, there is no recollection of a time when he was not around. There is no pre-Buffon, only post-Buffon. He was there, polygonal and playable in FIFA, when I started clumsily bashing away at the plastic buttons of a Playstation One controller, and he is still there now on the occasions that I clumsily bash away at the PS5. Among his glittering salvo of accomplishments, the man has appeared on as many different consoles as Crash Bandicoot. Hell, at this stage he’s practically rubbing shoulders with his moustachioed dinosaur-murdering compatriots, Mario and Luigi.

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Gianluigi Buffon has enjoyed an incredible career with Juventus. (Getty Images)Gianluigi Buffon has enjoyed an incredible career with Juventus. (Getty Images)
Gianluigi Buffon has enjoyed an incredible career with Juventus. (Getty Images) | Getty Images

In short, ironically, the longevity of Buffon’s palindromic career cannot be understated. From Parma, he went to Juventus in 2001, and after 17 years in Turin, he went to Paris Saint-Germain. Then he did it all in reverse. Such is the nature of a palindrome, I guess.

Now, at the age of 45, after having won 10 Scudetti, six Coppa Italias, a Ligue 1, a UEFA Cup, a smattering of other accolades both collective and individual, and the small matter of a World Cup, he is - assuming he doesn’t pull a Ric Flair and go back on his word umpteen times for the sake of ego - hanging up his gloves. It all feels a bit momentous.

As a football supporter, there are certain thresholds that you cross, certain watershed Rubicons that pockmark the long corridor of your adoration for the game, which are as sad as they are inevitable. First, there comes the point at which you realise that you are too old to make it as a professional. The jig is up, you have to stop kidding yourself. Then there comes the time when the players you are blindly devoted to are notably younger than you are. This may also be the stage at which you accept that were you to inexplicably appear in the newest iteration of Football Manager, you would dismiss the prospect of signing yourself because, again, you’re too old.

And then there is the moment at which all of your childhood idols are gone and the sport is instead populated solely by a strange new cohort of wunderkinds with confusing haircuts and names you struggle to pronounce. At first this begins slowly, like the foremost salted detonation of a popcorn kernel in a microwave. Then it becomes frequent, habitual, wonted.

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Players retire, they don either the knitwear of punditry or the knitwear of management (and believe me, there is a difference), and life trudges on until one day you look up from your keyboard and everybody has vanished. The party is done winding down and all that is left are the crumbs of the buffet and a pervasive awareness of your own mortality.

Oh, and Gianluigi Buffon. Because up until now, he has stuck around no matter what. He has defied petty trifles like common sense and medical science to plough on regardless, past the protestations of accepted wisdom, boldly into the domain of absurd mulishness.

But nothing can endure forever. Not even the immortals. Gigi, that great custodian, has finally admitted that enough is enough, and now he stands - like a sitcom protagonist in the doorway gazing wistfully over their set one last time before shutting off the lights and bidding farewell - on the cusp of the unknowable beyond. It will be quite some time before we see another like him.

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