20 Years After His Record-Setting Departure, Gigi Buffon Is Back At Boyhood Club

Gianluigi Buffon won every possible trophy in Serie A, but how will he fare in the second tier of Italian football?

On July 3, 2001, Gianluigi Buffon became the most expensive goalkeeper in football, moving from Parma to Juventus for a fee of around $58 million. Now, two decades and 489 Serie A appearances later, Buffon is back at the club where it all started.

Gigi Buffon officially became a Parma player again on Thursday, signing with the Serie B side on a two-year deal. "Superman" had returned.

Buffon began his career with Parma as a 13-year-old youth player back in 1991, progressing through the academy system before making his first-team debut — a 0-0 draw against eventual league champion AC Milan — as a 17-year-old in 1995. The next season, Buffon won the starting position and led Parma to a second-place finish in Serie A and a Champions League spot — both firsts for the club.

With Buffon between the sticks, Parma finished no worse than fifth in Serie A while also winning the Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup in 1998-99. 

During the 1997-98 season, Buffon earned the nickname "Superman" as a tribute to his athletic saves and aerial ability. He celebrated multiple times in his Parma career by revealing a Superman shirt beneath his goalkeeper jersey, most notably after saving a penalty from 1997 Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.

Embed from Getty Images

After five spectacular seasons with Parma, Buffon moved to Juventus prior to the 2001-02 season for a world record fee of $58 million. That sum stood as the highest paid for a goalkeeper until 2018, when Alisson joined Liverpool for $68 million (which was then broken again by Kepa Arrizabalaga's $88 million transfer to Chelsea a month later).

His accomplishments at Juventus are well-documented: 10 Scudettos, five Coppa Italia titles, seven Supercoppa wins and three Champions League Final appearances (alas, no UCL titles). He was also a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 and has the record for most Italy caps and most Serie A appearances.

Now 43, Buffon has only made 17 Serie A starts for Juve over the past two seasons (29 in all competitions), keeping four shutouts while allowing 15 goals in league play.

While he no longer may be Superman in goal, the veteran keeper could be a difference-maker for a Parma side that allowed 83 goals in 38 matches, second most in the league en route to a last-place finish in Serie A. 

“From the moment we bought the club, you can’t not have that in your mind," American businessman and new Parma owner Kyle Krause said of the possibility of signing Buffon. "I talked it over with my sons and the seed was planted.

"After we played in Torino in April, I had a chance to meet Gigi after the game and just made the joke to him: ‘Hey, I’d love to have you at Parma next season.’ He had a typical on-brand Gigi response, laughing and smiling, all those animated gestures he does. From then, he chose not to stay at Juventus so you reach back out.

"He wanted X amount of time to decompress postseason, so we left him alone for two weeks and then got in touch to say: OK, Gigi, do you want to do something or not? And while I don’t want to speak for him, he really had the passion to come back and loved the idea."

Buffon was previously linked with Barcelona, where he would have been the backup to German keeper Marc-André ter Stegen. Instead, he decided to help his boyhood club earn promotion back to Serie A.

"At 43, I have to make choices that might come across strange, crazy or even unpopular,” Buffon said. “But the crazy side of me has always stopped me from setting limits for myself, it has allowed me to keep dreaming and I am happy when I dream. I might not win anything but that doesn’t bother me. I’ve never chased trophies. Throughout my life what’s interested me is the journey, the challenge. That’s why I keep at it."

Embed from Getty Images

This will be a new test for the Italian legend, who played one season in Serie B previously after Juventus was relegated during the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006. 

Buffon will likely compete for the starting job with Luigi Sepe, the former Napoli keeper who spent much of his career in Naples out on loan before joining Parma on a permanent basis in 2020.

Videos you might like