Champions League

A Champions League Trophy, the Final Repair to Gianluigi Buffon’s Kintsugi Career

Though no career is perfect, Buffon's comes close. One trophy has eluded him, however, leaving timeworn cracks in his time at Juventus.

by Will Sharp
02 June 2017, 10:22am

Within Japanese culture there exists a time-honoured practice of pottery repair that eloquently doubles as a philosophy akin to the moral teachings of Zen Buddhism. Known as Kintsugi – which translates as "join with gold" – the process involves repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer mixed with gold dust and resin.

This custom makes no attempt to conceal cracks or disguise damage as doing so would be to acknowledge the object's breaks as undesirable, something to be hidden from sight. Instead Kintsugi highlights weakness, bringing attention to faults, promoting the depth of an object's true value by clearly exhibiting its exertions and the due care and attention paid to the object by its being repaired, as opposed to simply discarded or replaced.

As a philosophy, Kintsugi teaches acceptance of damage and breakage as an unavoidable aspect of life and encourages not the masking of flaws and imperfections but the embracing of them. In essence, a piece of pottery (or rather, a life) is worth more for having been used, broken and then repaired than were it never to have found use at all.

Though likely a matter of pure serendipity, throughout his football career Gianluigi Buffon has adhered to the Kintsugi philosophy far more vehemently than any of his on-field contemporaries. On the eve of what could prove to be his last Champions League Final, Buffon's imperfect career might yet be made complete by the most perfect of golden repairs.

READ MORE: The Cult – Gianluigi Buffon

With good reason, hearing the name Gianluigi Buffon and the words 'imperfect career' used in the same breath is likely to send fans into hysterics at the pure injustice of such a claim.

Those who treasure Buffon as though he were their own father will point to his ever increasing honours list and ponder how such an astonishing career could ever be deemed anything less than exemplary. Those at the gamut's other end – those who fawn over players whose comparatively modest careers are more appropriately signposted by admirable sixth-place finishes and luckless semi-final losses – will seek to reprimand anybody who dares to suggest that a footballer's career could be valued only by the number of medals stockpiled along the way.

But no player has ever reached retirement without having been forced to experience the agony of disappointment or regret, leaving the perfect career to exist only in theory. Despite having come far closer than many others to attaining the unattainable, Buffon presents no exception.

Buffon's CV is itself a work of art; a mazy timeline of records, achievements, trophy wins and accolades that continues almost ad infinitum, presented as a tower of prose attempting to no avail to condense a lifetime of unparalleled sporting success. That said, there have been multiple occasions in which Buffon has faltered; forced into taking more than one hiatus from his own hard-earned hegemony.

Buffon in action against Real Madrid in 2015 // PA Images

But what sets Buffon apart from his contemporaries is the unerring fashion in which he embraced the faults and sought to repair, rather than replace, the shortcomings of himself and those around him; helping him to find victories even more valuable than he could ever have found without experiencing such loss beforehand.

Unlike any of the most noted heartbreaks from Buffon's past, on and off-field struggles which all eventually found repair – enduring a tumultuous two-year period of depression before seeking professional help and rediscovering his lust for life; leaving two World Cups empty-handed before conquering the tournament with Italy in 2006; enduring a forced relegation to his nation's second tier with Juventus before winning Serie B and then Serie A titles barely five years apart – it is the Champions League title that continues to elude him.

Like the list of actors whose glorious careers were left notoriously incomplete without Oscars, fabled are those footballers who scaled the game's greatest heights but attempted in vain to get their hands on Europe's most prestigious prize; and a place on that list could well await Buffon.

Mere months away from turning 40, and tasked with toppling the immeasurable might of Real Madrid in what could well be his last appearance in a Champions League final, for Buffon the prospect of a European title remaining forever simply too far from reach could scarcely be more likely.

Were it to happen, and Buffon were to lose a third Champions League final, there is no risk his legacy would be diminished even in the slightest. Buffon could unwittingly assume the role of the Old Lady's most unlikely antagonist, spoil his own party by gifting his opponents the game with a fatal error, and still leave the Millennium Stadium regarded as quite possibly the greatest goalkeeper ever to have graced the game.

But while the fateful Champions League finals of 2003 and 2015 – when respective losses to AC Milan and Barcelona left what currently remains an agonising aperture in his monumental trophy collection – cannot be replayed, at least not beyond the confines of Buffon's mind, the final of 2017 yet awaits and therein lies his greatest opportunity, and the reason why Saturday's game represents so much more for Buffon than it does the other 21 players destined to share the stage with him.

Winning the Champions League could of course prove to be a career-defining achievement for every member of Juventus' ambitious squad, likewise with their opponents Real. But for most the illustrious trophy would be, as most trophies often are, simply the perfect way to sign off on a stellar campaign. Only for Buffon would it provide not just the perfect end to his season, but the perfect end to his life's work.

Should he finally wrap his gloves around a never-more deserved Champions League trophy, Gianluigi Buffon would not only complete a landmark treble of titles but would also reassemble the pieces of the only remaining incomplete vessel in his possession and, much like the Kintsugi masters of old, render it – and with it the entirety of his spectacular career – immortal with the most timeless of golden lacquers.

@shillwarp