May 17, 2018 / 10:15 AM / 9 days ago

Italy's Buffon to leave Juventus after 17 years

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, considered by many to be the greatest-ever in his position, will play his last match for Juventus after 17 years at the club when they host Verona in Serie A on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Juventus vs Sampdoria - Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy - April 15, 2018 Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon gestures to the fans at the end of the match REUTERS/Massimo Pinca/File Photo

Yet the 40-year-old, who has won nine Serie A titles with Juventus including the last seven in a row, stopped short of announcing his retirement from the sport in a news conference on Thursday.

The 2006 World Cup winner, close to tears at times, said that until two weeks ago he had been set to end his playing career, but changed his mind after receiving “very interesting” proposals.

“Saturday will be my last game for Juventus. I think it’s the best way to end this wonderful adventure,” said Buffon, who has kept 300 clean sheets in his 655 appearances for the Turin side in all competitions.

A group of fans embrace Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in front of Allianz stadium after a news conference in Turin, Italy, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

“For now, I only know that Saturday I will play a game. Until a few days ago it was certain that I would stop playing. Now there are some very interesting proposals,” he said.

Buffon, who made his professional debut for Parma in 1995 before joining Juve in 2001, had planned to end his career at the 2018 World Cup, which would have been his sixth, but Italy astonishingly failed to qualify for the first time since 1958.

The keeper has remained remarkably loyal to the Turin side, refusing to leave them even after they were relegated to Serie B in 2006 over the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, which also saw them stripped of a further two Serie A titles.

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Buffon, who set a fashion trend during his career by becoming one of the first goalkeepers to wear short-sleeved shirts, said he would not consider playing for a lower league team.

“I am certainly not someone who thinks it is right to end my career in the third or fourth level division. I am a competitive animal and I wouldn’t be able to live or feel at ease in that situation,” he said.

Juventus won a league and cup double this season, their fourth in a row, but also suffered a bitter Champions League quarter-final exit against Real Madrid, who won with a stoppage-time penalty.

Buffon was sent off for protesting the decision and then launched a furious tirade against referee Michael Oliver and said that UEFA were right to open a disciplinary case against him.

“I stepped over the line and I am extremely disappointed. If I had seen him (the referee) two days later, I would have embraced him and asked for forgiveness.”

That defeat ensured Buffon would not leave Juve with a Champions League winners’ medal, the only major title he has never won in his career.

“It has been a season with some shocking and unexpected lows but also incredible highs and, yet again, we gave an incredible response,” he said.

Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Toby Davis

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