17 years before Cristano Ronaldo’s debut, remembering Gianluigi Buffon’s first, unsteady Juventus moments

Words by Adam Digby Illustrated by Philippe Fenner
August 18, 2018

Paying a club record fee to complete a truly shocking transfer, Cristiano Ronaldo’s €100 million move to Juventus surprised anyone with even a passing interest in European football. The Portuguese star has brought an unprecedented level of attention to the Bianconeri, affecting their share price, shirt sales and ticket prices in equal measure thanks to what was undoubtedly the most discussed transfer of the summer.

But on Saturday the time for talking is over. When he steps out onto the field at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in Verona this weekend, suddenly the number of likes his first photo in Juve colours got on Instagram and the huge jump in followers for the club’s official Twitter accounts will be irrelevant. All that will matter is how the new No.7 performs against Chievo, and the weight of expectation – born from both Ronaldo’s undeniable quality and the vast sums his new side have invested in him – will be immense.

Of course, the 33-year-old is no stranger to being in the spotlight, in fact he actively pursues it. How else can the preening and posturing that precedes his every move be explained? He certainly isn’t pulling up his shorts before a free kick to help his run up or to affect the trajectory of the ball. Indeed, like most things Ronaldo does, he’s doing it to make sure all eyes are on him but – while Chievo clearly do not represent the sternest challenge of his career – the new Juve signing would do well to heed the lesson they taught a player who left Turin just as he arrived.

Seventeen years ago Gigi Buffon was Juve’s record signing, bought from Parma for €52 million in a move that made him the most expensive goalkeeper ever, an honour he held until Alisson Becker joined Liverpool last month. The Italy international was already widely respected, and he obviously went on to enjoy a stellar career with the Bianconeri, collecting winner’s medals with routine ease and becoming both club Captain and a Juventus legend.

Yet his time with the Old Lady did not begin with glory, but instead got underway with immense criticism ringing in his ears and a belief that Juve had paid far too much to secure his signature. Despite clean sheets in his first two appearances, the doubters grew louder, with the Vatican even joining the chorus to declare the money spent on Buffon was “obscene” given the problems the world was facing at the time.

September 15 2001 was a strange day in Serie A, players taking to the field hand in hand as they walked to the centre circle, a minute’s silence held in memory of those who had died in New York during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Torinese firemen clapped the fans who observed the ritual impeccably, while Marcello Lippi took off his glasses to wipe away a tear, events across the Atlantic clearly taking their toll on everyone.

The sombre quiet lingered even longer at Juve’s Stadio Delle Alpi when the goalkeeper came out to collect a poorly struck Chievo corner. Jumping to catch the ball he somehow fumbled it, striker Massimo Marazzina prodding a shot into the back of the net as Buffon crumbled to the turf, laying there with his head in his hands and unable to believe the error he had committed.

Shortly after, a swift counter attack saw the Juve box under siege once again, Simone Perotta’s cross picking out Marazzina who again made no mistake. The Bianconeri were 0-2 down within 20 minutes, their newly promoted opponents scarcely able to comprehend the ease at which they had sliced apart a team who would go on to win the title. Eventually, Juve scrapped their way to a 3-2 victory, goals from Alessio Tacchinardi, Igor Tudor and Marcelo Salas sparing Buffon even greater embarrassment.

The Italy international clearly learned from those mistakes, going on to become a universally admired figure and today many recognise him as the greatest goalkeeper of all time, but he was given a reminder that nothing comes easy, no matter how much you’re worth or how much you earn. While Buffon grew from the experience, so too did Chievo, now regulars in the top flight and remarkably adept at pulling off stunning upsets despite their modest budget and almost nonexistent fanbase.

Last season, their average home crowd was just over 12,500 and they finished 13th, yet they still managed to beat Fiorentina and hold both Napoli and Roma to 0-0 draws at the Bentegodi. Marshalling CR7 on his full debut will be no easy task, but upsetting the odds is a Chievo speciality, and they would relish the chance to knock off the Bianconeri with the entire world watching.

When it comes to creating lasting memories for expensive Juventus signings, they’ve done it before, and Cristiano Ronaldo will need to be at his best on Saturday because Chievo will be ready to made him look like a fool. Just ask Gigi Buffon.

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