Mangaratiba: A hard rain was falling when Gianluigi Buffon paused for a moment during an Italy training session on Tuesday.
Leaning forward with both hands on his knees, Buffon appeared to be resting or somehow trying to withstand the rain.
Or perhaps, the 36-year-old goalkeeper and Italy captain was reflecting on this: He is only the third player in history to be part of five World Cup squads, along with Germany great Lothar Matthaeus and former Mexico goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal.
Buffon first went to the World Cup back in 1998, although he didn’t play a second-choice option behind Gianluca Pagliuca. He then took over the starting position from 2002 onward.
“A fifth World Cup is a nice milestone but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied,” Buffon had said before departing for Brazil. “Both individually and as a squad we’re preparing to surprise people.”
Buffon, of course, doesn't need to prove anything at this point in his career. He was one of the driving forces behind Italy’s run to the 2006 World Cup title, when he didn’t concede a single goal to opponents during normal play over the course of seven matches — letting in only an own goal from Cristian Zaccardo and a penalty from Zinedine Zidane in the final won over France.
He helped Parma to the Uefa Cup title way back in 1999 and has since won five Serie A titles with Juventus — including the last three.
“As the years go by, Gigi still has the same amount of desire,” said midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who plays with Buffon with both Italy and Juventus. “He’s a great professional, a great friend, and a top-level player. He’s a player who is able to give his all in every moment and always offer the right words of encouragement.
“There are players here who are at their first big tournament and he’s always there offering the right words of advice,” Marchisio added on Tuesday.
So how does Buffon keep going?
“Motivation is the key,” he said in a recent interview with Italian daily La Repubblica. “Reflexes diminish. At my age you don’t improve anymore, so it’s better to reduce training and take better care of injury prevention, nutrition and gym work.”
Buffon has often recounted how he fell into depression about 10 years ago, then resuscitated himself by turning to literature. He has also been the subject of a couple betting scandals.
In 2011, he married Czech model Alena Seredova but Buffon announced last month when Italy gathered to begin training that they had separated. (Agencies)