Clubs, Gianluigi Buffon, Italian Serie A, Juventus, Story

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Gianluigi Buffon is ready to discuss playing for another season as he prepares to mark his 40th birthday by returning to action when Juventus face Chievo this weekend.

Buffon has made 629 appearances in Italy’s top flight, but with 16 games of the season remaining would only be able to reach 646 this term — one short of Paolo Maldini’s all-time record.

The goalkeeper has not played since Dec. 1 because of a calf injury but made a return to full training on Thursday and could play on Saturday — 24 hours before he turns 40.

And he told La Repubblica he would discuss carrying on next season, saying: “I’m going to meet the president Andrea Agnelli soon, and we’ll talk about it.

“The team’s best interests must come first, and we need to understand what type of role I can fill, if Juventus feel that I am still important.

“I would like to [play on], but the best solution will be found with the club. We need to build together, if possible, a logical and mutual pathway. Certainly I don’t want to become a problem, neither for Juve, nor for my teammates.”

Buffon stressed that he did not want to stand in the way of Wojciech Szczesny, who is set to become No. 1 when he retires.

“I’ve always stepped aside to give room for others and I’m delighted for Tek [Szczesny],” the former Italy international said.

“He’s a great goalkeeper and, if we do win the league this season, a lot of the credit must go to him. The future is his.

“I don’t want to be seen as an old man who is lying even to himself just to cling on, with nails and teeth, to his monument.

“This season, I did one thing wrong against Atalanta and made a mistake on a free kick against Spain, that’s all.

“I’ve played phenomenal games, other normal ones and others which were maybe average, yet FIFA rewarded me as the best goalkeeper of 2017. I still feel like I did six, seven years ago, and that is the truth.”

Buffon said he would “prefer to find myself out of petrol in the middle of the ocean after going at a rate of knots rather than to return to the port slowly and sadly.”

And he added: “Right now, I’m a happy man. Those tears in Milan [after Italy’s World Cup playoff elimination to Sweden] were for more than just the disappointment at a failure which I thought was impossible.

“They were for the huge sporting responsibility towards an entire country and the reaction of a man who, at the age of 40, feels emotions much more intensely than he did when he was 20.”

He said he had not considered what he would do when his playing days came to an end, adding: “I called [Marcello] Lippi and we spoke on the phone about it a few days ago.

“He told me to take a sabbatical year and take a look at football from the outside, with a bit of detachment, and try to work out what it is that I really want.

“I’m not looking for an easy life — I’d prefer to have a bit of anxiety. I’ve always lived with fear and, as I have grown older, I’ve learnt how to cope with it and I’ve become humble. So afterwards, I’ll get back to work again.”

However, he said that if he opted to move into coaching he would not want to manage a club, but would consider being a national team boss — although that did not have to be Italy.

“It’s a stimulating challenge, with institutional and educational responsibility,” he added.

“You represent an entire country. You unite, not divide.”

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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