Gianluigi Buffon’s performances last season have put him in contention to win the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award for the first time. The closest the veteran Juventus keeper has come previously to the accolade was a fourth-place finish in the 2015 poll.
Buffon’s 2016/17 in numbers
Honours: Serie A, Coppa Italia
Clean sheets: 13
UEFA Champions League
Clean sheets: 9
It was another remarkable season for the 39-year-old Italian international, who ended 2016/17 with a third consecutive domestic double and had just the one night to forget in an otherwise brilliant UEFA Champions League campaign.
Buffon had conceded only three goals until Juve’s 4-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final, proving instrumental in the Bianconeri’s march to the Cardiff showpiece – including memorable showings against Lyon, Barcelona and Monaco.
Buffon and Juve’s solidity was perhaps best exemplified by their quarter-final against Barcelona, notably the goalless second-leg draw at Camp Nou where many were expecting another memorable Barcelona comeback after the Italians’ 3-0 win in Turin.
Buffon’s best moments
1) Lyon king
“Even Superman is ‘just’ Clark Kent sometimes. Gigi, you’re our superhero forever.” The Juventus fans unveiled this banner a few days before the group game in Lyon after the Bianconeri captain had made a couple of mistakes in quick succession. Lyon, however, were no kryptonite to Buffon. He saved an Alexandre Lacazette penalty and produced incredible stops from Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso in the second half.
2) Barcelona kept off the board
Juve won praise for keeping Barça’s all-star attack at bay in the quarter-final decider in Catalonia, but Buffon’s most important save in that tie was arguably in the first leg, straight after Paulo Dybala’s opener. When Lionel Messi’s through ball left Andrés Iniesta one-on-one with Buffon, it looked a certain – potentially crucial – away goal, yet somehow the keeper managed to raise his left hand just in time to palm the ball away. “It was pure instinct,” said Buffon.
3) Old dog trumps young gun
Gonzalo Higuaín’s double in the semi-final first leg in Monaco confirmed Juventus in the driving seat for Cardiff, but Buffon nevertheless contributed to the victory with several fine stop, including from Kylian Mbappé, 21 years his junior. “Buffon made some great saves,” said Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim. “Our lack of goals was down to him.”
The case for Buffon
It is never easy to win individual prizes as a goalkeeper. Yet even if his enduring quality and consistency make Buffon so special compared with most of his peers, topping this poll should not be considered some sort of lifetime achievement award – rather, the reason to select him is that Buffon was simply splendid in 2016/17.
He would probably have been the poll favourite had Juve won in Cardiff. But while the fairy-tale finale did not materialise, with the UEFA Champions League trophy remaining elusive, nobody could deny that Buffon’s superlative form had been a key factor in his team’s overall success.