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The Fascinating Case of the Old Lady’s Guard!

February 1, 2018

Gianluigi Buffon, The Best Goalkeeper in his Generation, Had the Privilege of Working with, Well, Some of The Best Defenders Known to Man.

Cars won’t move without tyres, planes won’t fly without jet fuel, ships won’t sail without navigators, and Goalkeepers? they probably won’t keep clean sheets without good defenders.

Ever taken a detailed look at some of the most legendary goalkeepers known to man? Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks, Peter Schmeichel, Oliver Kahn, Fabien Barthez, Gigi Buffon etcetera, these guys didn’t just hold their own, they defied logic, gravity and time itself, but then, how legendary would they have been with consistently poor defending?

Phenomenal poaching is a function of ingenious playmaking, ingenious playmaking is a function of virtuoso midfield holding which is a reflection brilliant midfield orchestration, and then there’s good goalkeeping, which is technically, a function of good defending

Truth of the matter is, possession obsessed teams like Barcelona, Bayern, Manchester City, don’t get to concede too much when they dominate, but when you have reliable defenders manning your box, there’s usually very little to worry about, even when keeping the ball is not your thing!

You may have to make a save or two, but most threats are contained before they even get into the box.

The case of the Old Lady’s guard is really worth taking a look at.

“More than 25 years ago I made my vow: I swore to protect you. Look after you. A shield against all your enemies. I’ve always thought about your welfare, putting it first, even ahead of my own.” – Gianluigi Buffon addressing his goal

Just awesome, but what’s even more interesting is, that when ‘il Migliore’ made his vow, the forces of nature went into a wild search, picking out and sending him arguably the best tools imaginable, to help preserve his vows.

As Gianluigi Buffon turned 40 on Sunday, it was another occasion to remind ourselves just how blessed Italy and Juventus are, to have been in possession of one of the safest hands in the history of the game, but perhaps; it was also an opportunity to reflect on some of the most ruthless defenders the Superman has rolled with.

Paolo Maldini

His name still sends shivers down the spines of even the greatest forwards alive, and it’s not because he won the UEFA Champions league five times, or lifted the Scudetto on seven occasions, but because he defended so well, he rarely had to make a tackle.

One of the most famous football quotes is when Paolo Maldini said: “If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake”

Although the 49-year-old remains an eternal rival when it comes to Club allegiances, the Italian National team he captained remains one of the most defensively solid sides you will ever see, Buffon had the privilege of sharing a dressing room with him.

Regarded as the greatest defender in modern football, Maldini only received three-yellow cards throughout his 24-year-career, Sergio Ramos, one of the best center-backs today,  has 24 to his name, that should tell you everything about a man who set the pace for Buffon’s fascinating Serie-A story with the Bianconeri.

The highlight of Buffon and Maldini’s time together would be the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, precisely the clash between the Azzuri and co-hosts South Korea, a game still regarded in many quarters as the most controversial game in the last decade.

II Capitano holds the record for most Serie-A appearances, 647, just 18 games ahead of his compatriot and former team-mate.

Fabio Cannavaro

He currently manages Guangzhou Evergrande, but what really sets the 2006 Footballer of the Year apart, is the way he managed and contained attacking threats, making life as a goalkeeper immeasurably fantastic for Gianluigi Buffon.

Team mates at Parma and eventually Juventus where they won a couple of titles together, but it was the 2006 World Cup that really reflected just how formidable a defense with the likes of Gigi and Fabio, could be.

Buffon and Cannavaro started out together at the Italian National team, both making their debuts in 1997 as the Azzurri successfully booked a ticket for the 98’ FIFA World Cup in France.

Nine years later, after many lows with the Italian National team, il muro di  berlino and Gigi Buffon formed part of a defense that kept five clean sheets en route a historic World Cup triumph in Germany.

Fabio Cannavaro is also the only defender to have won the Ballon d’Or in the last decade, Only Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer

Alessandro Nesta

A Four-time Serie-A defender of the year, with over 400 Italian top flight appearances spread between Lazio and AC Milan, Nesta is definitely up there as one of the greatest defenders in the game, and it’s not surprising at all that, alongside one of the greatest goalkeepers in the game, he helped his country win the World Cup in 2006.

Under Giovanni Trapattoni, Nesta partnered Fabio Cannavaro in the 2002 World Cup and four years later, under Marcelo Lippi, the legendary Milan defender proved a vital figure in Buffon’s successes as the Juventus shot-stopper conceded just two goals in the 2006 World Cup

The highlight of Buffon and Nesta’s club rivalry was in 2002/03, when Nesta scored his penalty in the famous Champions League Penaty shoot-out which AC Milan won 3-2.

Lilian Thuram

He scored only one goal for Juventus in over 140 appearances, but that’s not the point, his presence in the Bianconeri’s backline for half-a-decade was no doubt instrumental in Buffon’s successes between the sticks.

Ruddy Lilian Thuram-Ulien and Gianluigi Buffon spend a total of ten years as team-mates, five at Parma Calcio, five at Juventus and even though the pair occasionally had scores to settle on the International stage [Euro 2000 Final, FIFA World Cup 2006 Final], they were more than happy to join forces when it came to keeping opponents out.

The closest the pair came to winning the Champions league together was in 2002/03, when the Bianconeri’s biggest rivals AC Milan had the last laugh in a highly tensed penalty shoot-out, Andriy Shevchenko sending Buffon the wrong way to secure a sixth European title for the San Siro outfit.

Agonizingly painful, yet, silverware wasn’t in short supply, Thuram and Buffon won a total of seven trophies together, three (UEFA Cup, Supercoppa Italiana, Coppa Italia) at Parma and four (Serie A x2, Supercoppa Italiana x2) at Juventus

Giorgio Chiellini

He’s 33, and although he won’t be crucified by the Roman army like Jesus Christ, the fear of the Pisa native is the beginning of wisdom for Strikers who know what it feels like to be man-handled by Juve’s vice-captain.

Although he started as a left-back, Giorgio Chiellini would go on to make a name as one of the most ruthless center-backs in his generation, just the sort of player any coach would kill to have in his team.

In 2005, the no-nonsense left-footed defender joined Juventus from Roma after his loan spell with Fiorentina came to an end, yet, it was only the beginning of perhaps, the most successful Serie-A story till date.

Through no fault of their own, Gigi Buffon and King Kong spent their first season together in the Serie-B, winning back promotion to the Serie-A following the infamous Calciopoli scandal.

Thirteen years down the road, Thirteen titles together, most recently, as Captain and Vice-captain, but they’ve also suffered quite a number of disheartening losses together.

The Euro 2012 4-0 loss to Vicente Del Bosque’s high-flying Spain, two Champions league final defeats to Barcelona and Spain, and the 2013 Confederations Cup Semi-final penalty heartbreak against, well, Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain, who were eventually torn apart in the final by Neymar and Co.

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