Juventus say goodbye to Gianluigi Buffon after 6,111 legendary days
"Sixthousandonehundredandeleven days" wrote Gianluigi Buffon on his Instagram tribute to Juventus. "Sixthousandonehundredandeleven moments of pure passion. Of joy, of tears, of defeat and of victories."
Unbelievably, 6,111 is the number of days Buffon spent at Juventus. It was 6,111 days of incredible passion, memories, glory and unforgettable moments. A captain, a leader and one of the greatest men to have ever played the sport, Buffon will start his last match for the Bianconeri on Saturday afternoon and there won't be a dry eye in the house.
Buffon isn't simply a wonderful human, an honourable player and a loyal servant to the club, but the very symbol of Juventus. When we speak of Stile Juve, we speak of men like Buffon, who embody the sentiment and who represent the club and Italy proudly on every occasion. He is the player who celebrated with Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane when Ireland beat Italy to qualify for the knockout stages of Euro 2016, the man who counts his lifelong opponent, Iker Casillas, as one of his very best friends and the player who stayed on the pitch after Juve's disappointing loss to Napoli a few weeks ago to congratulate each and every opponent despite his own personal rage.
Yet despite a stellar career, Buffon's time is not without controversy. A great sportsman, beloved by his teammates and his opponents, the goalkeeper has also made mistakes. He is mortal, of course, but what separates him from many others in these modern times is his willingness to accept his errors and apologise.
Asked about the potential ban UEFA may impose for his behaviour in the Champions League match against Real Madrid and his comments on Michael Oliver after the game, Buffon was apologetic.
"As for what I said off the pitch, I said a few days later that I crossed the line and that's clear.
"I am extremely sorry about that, as over 23 years of Champions League career, I was never sent off or suspended, so I feel that I behaved fairly and in a sporting manner with everyone."
In his younger years Buffon was also accused of being a fascist, by sporting a T-shirt with the words "Boia chi molla" -- "Death to cowards" -- a term used by the fascists during Benito Mussolini's reign. Again, he apologised. "When I wore that shirt, I was stupid because I did not know it was a phrase used by the fascist regime," explained Buffon in a press conference.
6111 Seimilacentoundici giorni. Semilacentoundici attimi di pura passione. Di gioia, di pianti, di sconfitte e di vittorie. Grazie. Grazie ad ognuno di voi. Perché ognuno di voi ha contribuito a rendere speciale ogni istante della mia vita in bianconero. Una vita che è diventata una seconda pelle. Una pelle che ho indossato, amato e rispettato. E che ho custodito e protetto con tutto me stesso. Con tutti i miei limiti, ma anche con tutta la passione che mi ha sempre accompagnato. Con domani si conclude un percorso. Termina un libro che abbiamo scritto insieme. L'emozione è tanta. Troppa. Comincerà inevitabilmente un percorso nuovo. Un libro nuovo. Deve cominciare. Per la Juventus che rimarrà oltre qualunque calciatore, sempre! E che continuerà a scrivere altre pagine importanti del suo libro che io penso e immagino infinito. Perché il suo è un dna unico ed ineguagliabile. Irripetibile e magnifico. La Juve è una famiglia. La mia famiglia. E io non smetterò mai di amarla, ringraziarla e chiamarla "casa". Perché mi ha dato tanto. Tutto. Sicuramente molto più di quanto io non abbia fatto nei suoi confronti. Comincerà inevitabilmente un percorso nuovo. Un libro nuovo. Deve cominciare. Per me che imparerò a guardare il futuro con occhi diversi. Che inizierò a raccogliere le nuove sfide che la vita mi proporrà con la curiosità di chi non vuole smettere di sentirsi "in gioco". E che sentirò il sano timore di chi di sfide ne ha vissute tante, a volte vinte, molte altre perse, ma che è consapevole che ognuna di esse è diversa dalla precedente. E pertanto più difficile. Sono arrivato allo stadio in bicicletta. Ero tanto giovane. E domani vorrei metaforicamente allontanarmi a piedi per poter assaporare ogni istante, sentire la fatica del distacco. E la gioia dei saluti. Per emozionarmi. E per capire che mai sarò lontano da quel posto che chiamerò "casa". Per sempre! E per poter salutare i compagni e gli amici che mai smetterò di chiamare FRATELLI. Fino alla fine! Per sempre vostro, Gianluigi Buffon
Mistakes happen, especially when people are young. And while Buffon is guilty of a few, he will forever be remembered for the good he's done. For his sporting achievements, for his arm around teammates and for his fidelity to the cause. In an age where mercenaries are the norm, Buffon has asked more of himself and given everything to his teammates, club and country.
Buffon's Instagram thank you to Juventus went on: "For Juventus will remain beyond any player, always! We will continue to write important pages in its book, which I think and imagine will be endless. Because this club has a unique DNA that cannot be equalled. It cannot be repeated and it is magnificent.
"Juve are a family. My family. I will never stop loving it, thanking it and calling it 'home.' Because it gave me so much. Everything. Certainly more than I gave to it."
Juventus will indeed survive without him and thrive again, but his absence will be keenly felt, if not immediately then later on. Whenever a goalkeeper misses an easy chance or the defence loses its shape, Juve fans will remember Buffon.
From his arrival to Juve on the 3rd of July, 2001, to the last game he will play in a Juventus jersey on Saturday against Hellas Verona, Buffon has been nothing short of a spectacular goalkeeper. The superhero with extraordinary reflexes, incredible judgment and brilliant technique. Who can ever forget the obscenely fantastic save on Filippo Inzaghi's header in the 2003 Champions League final against Milan or the magnificent left hand that stopped Aleix Vidal's powerful shot in the 2015 final against Barcelona?
While Italy watched his heir Gianluigi Donnarumma produce blunder after blunder in the Coppa Italia final last week, Buffon, at 40 years old, could still produce a stunning double save to ensure the trophy for his club.
On the pitch, he is the best many will ever see both on the field and off of it. He's irreplaceable.
Juventus are a side that change and evolve every season, and while Massimiliano Allegri has been crucial in helping the side and newbies adapt seamlessly, he would not have been able to do such an incredible job without the help of his veterans, the likes of Claudio Marchisio and especially Buffon.
It was the goalkeeper who guided Alvaro Morata in those early days when the youngster struggled with personal issues, the one who made Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa feel at home, and the man who pushes Andrea Barzagli to maintain his wonderful form despite his age. He's a motivator, a friend and Juve's secret weapon in the dressing room.
Capitano, you will be forever missed. It has been our honour to watch you and call you one of our own. Thank you for the memories.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.