Dubliner but currently living in Bologna, Mark Doyle has been following closely those formative years that made Gianluigi Buffon the world’s greatest goalkeeper. In an incredible article recently published online and translated into several languages under the title: ‘Gianluigi Buffon: The making of Superman’, Doyle reveals another even more genuine side to Italy’s larger than life sports character: his family.
Photos and a video by Bologna Press also illustrate how Gigi’s mum, sister and aunt, who were present during the interview, went out of their way to make us feel at home. “His mother was an absolute gem,” said Doyle. “They made us coffee and showed us rare photos. Best of all, was the room where some of his relics were on display – it was like any little boys bedroom but just way cooler!”
Gianluigi Buffon: The Making of Superman
The goalkeeper retired from international football following Italy’s shock World Cup elimination. Mark Doyle tells the story of the legend’s rise to greatness
Before every Parma game, coach Nevio Scala would pass by each player’s room to assess their frame of mind.
On the eve of the Serie A meeting with AC Milan on November 19, 1995, he was interested in the demeanour of one player in particular, the 17-year-old Gianluigi Buffon.
“Gigi had never played in the first team before and we were playing a team of superstars: Roberto Baggio, George Weah, Paolo Maldini,” Scala tells Goal. “So, I said to him, ‘Gigi, what happens if I play you tomorrow? Would you be ready?’
The family home itself, is a nondescript villa in a very ordinary neighbourhood in Carrara. The neighbours though are fully aware of the legend that grew up here and who still comes back during the summer months to help out in the family business.
‘La Rominina’ is a small building sitting right on the edge of the beach at Massa. This is quite often where you find Gigi in the summer surrounded by family and perhaps even playing ‘The Beautiful Game’ on a small pitch next door. However, close by is the family hotel Stella Versilia, which was just closing down for the winter as we got into town.
It seemed though that Gigi was anointed from the very beginning as his mother Maria recounted:
Before revisiting the drama of Gigi’s birth, Maria takes a big breath. “I suppose that it was destiny,” she sighs. “But it was not easy at the time.
“He seemed healthy when he was born; four kilos, so he’s always been pretty big!
“But he had been suffocated by the umbilical cord. He had cyanosis (a discolouration of the tissue in the face caused by a lack of oxygen) and he was in an incubator for five or six days, just lying there, like Jesus on the cross.
“We didn’t know if there’d be any brain damage. When they finally handed him to me, the doctors said, ‘Only God knows…’
“But the good Lord was very generous. He was very good to us. Gigi was walking and talking at nine months, before any of the other kids. Even then, he was No.1.”
When Maria pulled out a few photo albums the long drive down to Carrara as well as the miserable day that descended upon us all seemed worthwhile. Unexpectedly though, was our little detour into another room. There were wall to wall of old photos, many of the young Buffon as he was starting out on his career, a few pairs of football boots and of course some awards. There are many more on display in the hotel as his mother informed Doyle.
A week previously, we went to meet Parma’s scout Ermes Fulgoni who convinced Parma to sign Gigi immediately:
“As soon as I saw Gigi, I said to myself, ‘This kid is a phenomenon,’” the former goalkeeping coach tells Goal. “Parma’s sporting director wasn’t sure about him, as Gigi was a little flat-footed and his technique wasn’t great.
“But I knew that we could work on that. I told Parma, ‘You have to sign this kid up right away – before someone else does.’
“Luckily, they listened and Gigi came to play for us.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
When our visit came to an end, the Buffon family gladly posed for photos outside their home. Maria, Veronica – his sister, and her two kids were incredible hosts. As if it couldn’t get any better, Maria insisted that we come back in the summer when Gigi will surely be around. That we will Mrs Buffon!
Read Mark Doyle’s full article in English:
Video ‘Interview with Gigi Buffon’s mum’ is on Bologna Press front page or Youtube: