There were emotional scenes in Turin on Saturday as Gianluigi Buffon played his final game for Juventus after 17 years with the Italian champions.
Buffon announced this week that he would leave Juventus at the end of the season – although he would not retire from football, as was expected.
The home game at Juventus Stadium against Hellas Verona was his final match for the Serie A winners, and there were tears from both player and fans before the game, and then when he was subbed off to a standing ovation after 64 minutes.
Before the game, Buffon went the edge of the stands to meet fans, exchanging hugs, handshakes and kisses with the supporters who have idolised him ever since he arrived at Juventus in 2001. One child fan was seen in floods of tears as he met his hero.
There were plenty of banners in the crowd, one of which called Buffon an ‘immortal hero’, while another declared the long-time Italy and Juventus No1 to be holy. Another, which contained a picture of a younger Buffon earlier in his career at Juve, read ‘Ciao Gigi! You’re my wonderwall’. One banner simply called Buffon ‘the legend’.
All the banners were topped just before kick-off when a gigantic tifo of Buffon’s face and upper body, holding a shield baring the Italian flag, was unveiled in the stands.
Buffon had looked overwhelmed in the warm-up, appearing to wipe tears away from his eyes as he clapped and gave his thumbs up to the crowd.
Before the game, Buffon – wearing the captain’s armband – led Juve out accompanied by his three sons, Louis, David, and baby Leopoldo. Buffon’s wife Ilaria D’Amico was also there to offer support, while his three children all wore replica Juventus kits
Buffon kept a clean sheet in his final Juventus game before being substituted on 64 minutes with the score at 2-0 in order to receive the adulation from the crowd. He hugged every outfield player and manager Massimiliano Allegri before taking his place on the bench as third choice stopper Carlo Pinsoglio came on.
Pinsoglio conceded 10 minutes after coming on, however Juve held on to beat relegated Verona 2-1 – despite missing a late penalty – to give Buffon a win in his final match.
The end of Buffon’s time at Juventus has not been without controversy, after he was sent off in their Champions League quarter final defeat to Real Madrid. Buffon subsequently accused referee Michael Oliver of having a ‘rubbish bin for a heart’, among other insults, and has refused to apologise even after it emerged the official had received death threats.
However to the Juve supporters, Buffon will instead be remembered for his years of service and loyalty, including remaining at the club when they were demoted to Serie B in 2006 as punishment for the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal.
The 40-year-old’s honours in Turin include nine Serie A titles, five Coppa Italias, and six Italian Super Cups. He also won the World Cup in 2006 with Italy while a Juventus player.