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 By Ben Gladwell

Gianluigi Buffon to leave Juventus; reveals offers that may hold off retirement

With Gianluigi Buffon confirming he will leave Juve after 17 years, Paul Mariner discusses his legacy and place among the best goalkeepers all-time.
The ESPN FC panel discuss the timing of Gianluigi Buffon's decision to leave Juventus.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus after 17 years, with Saturday's Serie A fixture against Hellas Verona his last match for the club but not necessarily of his career.

Speaking at a news conference in Turin -- Buffon's home since 2001 -- the 40-year-old admitted he is yet to decide whether he will be retiring or continuing his playing career elsewhere -- revealing he has some interesting offers.

"On Saturday, I will play a game and this is the only certainty," he said. "With [president] Andrea [Agnelli], we are talking all the time and he knows all that is going on in my life, and in fact he's an advisor I don't want to go without.

"Up to two week ago, it was certain that I was going to quit playing, but now there are some offers that have arrived to continue playing, or offers from off the field -- and Andrea has made me the best offer if I choose to stop playing.

"I think after Saturday, when I have some serenity, I will take my final decision, which will be to follow what comes from within me.

"Next week will be the week I decide what to do, but it's a decision which will not change the way I feel. Two weeks ago, I had accepted that I was an ex-footballer, so whatever I do decide to do, I will be serene about it. The main thing is I don't blemish this half of a lifetime I've had at Juventus, and those who have believed in me.

"All that mattered for me was ending in the best way possible at Juve, and let's not forget that Juve have an excellent goalkeeper who is 13 years younger than me."

Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have both recently been linked with making a move for Buffon, while Argentine giants Boca Juniors have also expressed an interest. Buffon would not go into any detail about the identity of the clubs who have offered him the chance to extend his career, other than to say he will not continue in Serie A or anywhere else unless it is at a high level.

"For Italy, we can't even talk about it," he said. "A return to Parma is a romantic childhood dream, but nothing more than that.

"Certainly I'm not the kind of person who would like to end his career in just any old lower level league because I'm a competitive animal and I couldn't cope in such a context."

He added that he would not like to stand in the way of progress in the Italy national team, even if he is still playing in one of Europe's top leagues.

"For the national team, I've said that if Buffon became a problem three months ago, I daren't think what I would have become three months, six months, 12 months later," he said. "It would be extremely difficult to digest and something I want to distance myself from. I think that the national team already has some great young players who need to be given a chance."

His voice trembled as he thanked the Bianconeri for giving him the opportunity to play with them, and wished Giorgio Chiellini the best as he prepares to take over the captain's armband from next season.

"I want to summarise what is a special day for me, one which I arrive at with a lot of serenity and happiness," he said. "These feelings are thanks to an amazing path I've been lucky enough to share with many people who really liked me, and I felt this day after day, and for this I fought and tried to do my best.

"Saturday will be my last game for Juventus and I think it will be the best way to end this fantastic adventure. My fear was to arrive at the end of my adventure with Juve as somebody just being tolerated or a player whose engine had broken down -- I can say it is not like this, and I am proud that I have been able to express maybe not my best, but performances always worthy of my name and Juventus.

"This is the greatest gratification, and that is why I arrive at this moment so happy, because it's not something you take for granted to be able to perform at this level for so long."

Last November a tearful Buffon appeared to announce his retirement from international football following Italy's World Cup playoff defeat to Sweden, although he did pull on an Italy shirt -- and the captain's armband -- again in their 2-0 defeat to Argentina in a friendly in March.

That was his 176th cap for Italy -- a national record -- since his debut against Russia in October 1997. That run includes the Azzurri's 2006 World Cup triumph, just one of the many trophies and accolades the 40-year-old picked up throughout his career.

The 2003 UEFA Club Footballer of the Year ends his career as the current Best FIFA Goalkeeper. He won Serie A nine times and the Coppa Italia five times, while he also lifted the UEFA Cup with Parma in 1999.

The Champions League eluded him, though, even though he appeared in three finals, most recently losing out to Barcelona in 2015 and Real Madrid in 2017.

A third Champions League final appearance in four years was still on the agenda until the dying seconds of Juve's quarterfinal clash with Real Madrid in April. Then, Buffon delivered arguably the most unsavoury moment of his distinguished career.

The Bianconeri No. 1 confronted referee Michael Oliver angrily after he awarded Real a last-gasp penalty, earning a red card and later saying the English referee "has a garbage bin in the place of a heart."

Of that incident, he said: "I think some kind of punishment for what happened in Madrid is correct, not for what happened on the field because the referee gave a red card for what even now I cannot understand, but because I crossed the line.

"I'm extremely disappointed because in 23 years, playing in the Champions League, I've never been sent off or disciplined. I always had a sporting and correct conduct with everybody. It was certainly a special situation and a few days later, I said that Buffon, with the emotion of that night, should not say what he did.

"Two days later, of course I was sorry to have, let's say, offended the referee, because at the end of the day the referee is a human who has a difficult job. Two days later, I would maybe have hugged him and apologised, but not changed what I said, although maybe I would have been calmer."

Buffon's career has nevertheless been more about the highs than the lows and, almost 23 years since making his debut on Nov. 19, 1995, for Parma against AC Milan, he bows out considered as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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