The Greatest Goalkeeper Of All-Time
If this question hasn’t already been asked, it will be soon. We are coming to the point in Gianluigi Buffon’s career where it’s impossible not to wonder, “Is he….the greatest?”. Obviously it’s tough and complicated question but the list is short, which makes it a little bit easier. In fact, the list is two names long. It’s either Gigi or it’s Lev Yashin, the legendary Black Spider.
This question was posed by a website a couple months ago with varying results, obviously. And at the time I answered this:
There are two separate questions here as far as I’m concerned. One was unasked, which is “Is Buffon the best of all time.” In a word: No. That’s the Black Spider, Lev Yashin. The other is: “What does the future hold?”.
I made the argument that Gigi had yet to accomplish enough to be considered The Greatest, but that when his career is over, the title will be his and only his, barring some unforeseen disaster. And that’s no black mark on Yashin’s legacy. Gigi Buffon is just that good.
Well, I’m ready to change my answer; and it has only taken 17 weeks of the Serie A season to do so. Gianluigi Buffon, not yet 30, were he to retire today, should go down as the greatest goalkeeper of all time.
His save on Tommaso Rocchi last weekend was the final nail in the coffin, and it wasn’t even the save itself. It was all the players standing around afterwards staring in bewilderment wondering how the hell he got to that ball. How many times does that happen? How many times do you see a player just stand there and stare at Gigi, unable to comprehend the sheer athleticism just displayed to the world? Too many times to count.
Without him, you can kiss that World Cup trophy goodbye. Without him, the score goes 2-1 in favor of France on Zinedine Zidane’s header, before the game goes to extra time, and Zidane walks off the pitch with quite possibly the greatest legacy and swansong in the history of the sport. Without him, Zidane doesn’t get the opportunity to headbutt Marco. So fans of France, don’t blame Materazzi, blame Buffon.
Yashin’s trophy cabinet isn’t bare either, with a European Championships trophy and as the only keeper to win the European Footballer of the Year Award. (As well as a Soviet title in hockey – hell of an athlete, that Yashin.) Buffon has finished second as EFOTY, but he’s only 29. Surely there’s time for a win (or two). Yashin’s best appearance in the World Cup ended up in 4th, at the age of 37. It’s difficult enough to comment on the Soviet team of that era, but in watching video the game was much different back then, obviously. Gigi has won one, so far, and much rested on his shoulders. While Cannavaro was fantastic, no doubt, Buffon was regularly preventing sure goals. Those are more decisive than tackles. There is no replacing Gianluigi Buffon.
Lev Yashin was great, utterly superb, but this is a different era. The athletes are bigger and stronger and faster. There are new training methods, techniques and technology. The balls are different. The equipment is different. In watching plenty of tape on Yashin for these purposes (courtesy of FIFA), I can honestly say that the shots Gigi Buffon faces with regularity are more difficult than those of Yashin. His saves need that extra spring of the muscle. The extra inch of reach. A split-second less of reaction time. I respect everything Lev Yashin did, he has simple yet supreme athletic skill, a true legend, and there’s nothing to say he would not have gotten to those balls, but Buffon did, and that’s the difference.
With absolutely no hesitation, I say Gigi Buffon is the best keeper of all time. Evolution has just run its course.