Buffon ready to pass the torch to Donnarumma

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy; World Cup 2018

Italy international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is closing in on retirement after next year’s World Cup but has a ready-made replacement for the national team.

Now 39, the Juventus captain has been a mainstay for the Azzurri for over two decades, earning 173 caps for his country in the process.

"I often think about that it’s unusual to find a player who can link 40 years of football," Buffon told Copa90.

"I started playing with guys who were born in the 60s, and I’ll finish with those born in the 2000s. That’s something I’m proud of, football has changed so much, it’s more difficult now and despite that, I’ve been a protagonist.

"For goalkeepers, the game has changed with your feet, when I started the backpass rule had just come in. Before the goalkeeper just cleared it, but in the past six or seven years, the goalkeeper has also had to build the play, make precise throws and maybe even beat an opponent.

"Because of that the job is more complicated, the goalkeeper must take more responsibility."

Italy have yet to learn their opponents for the intercontinental play-off that stands between them and a place at Russia 2018, a tournament that will be Buffon’s last should Italy reach the finals.

When asked about his successor in the national team, Buffon pointed to the most obvious candidate, Milan’s teenage stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma, but also praised his non-Italian peers.

"At the moment the most interesting is Donnarumma," Buffon said. "At a European level he’s the youngest and it’s normal that there’s curiosity surrounding him. He’s a lad with extraordinary skills, but in general, I appreciate all good goalkeepers.

"If [Manuel] Neuer, [Thibaut] Courtois or [David] De Gea do something good I enjoy it, and I feel admiration.

"Alongside them, I’d also put [Jan] Oblak, [Hugo] Lloris, [Samir] Handanovic, Alisson, [Wojciech] Szczesny, [Joe] Hart… I often watch them because I like to understand their method of making saves."