May 7, 2012, 7:45 AM EDT
Despite 491 Serie A appearances and 113 caps for Italy, Gianluigi Buffon was caught off guard by the last four days, the range of emotions rivaling anything he’d experienced in his 17-year career. Thrown to depths he would only admit to after Juventus’s victory over Cagliari, Buffon called Sunday “without doubt after the World Cup … the greatest joy of my sporting life.”
“They were the three most horrible days of my sporting existence,” Buffon said of the time between Wednesday’s error against Lecce and kickoff against Cagliari. “I was afraid I had thrown away the title with my own mistake. I felt a great sense of responsibility.”
Buffon’s responsibility is distinct. Most athletes feel a natural sense of obligation to teammates, coaches and club, but within a Juventus culture that’s had been burdened by the legacy of calciopoli, his stresses were particularly acute.
Juventus had not truly competed for a title since returning to Serie A in 2007-08. In 2008-09, Juve finished second, but 10 points back of Inter Milan, they were hardly contenders. For a core of players that couldn’t consider Juve back until the Old Lady reclaimed her place atop Italian soccer, it’s been a long five years.
That core’s made up of stars who stayed with the club through its season in Serie B. While players like Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram and Zlatan Ibrahimovic left rather than see out a season in the second division, others coudln’t to divest themselves from the club.
“I also thought back to (Mauro) Camoranesi, (David) Trezeguet and (Pavel) Nedved,” Buffon said, “[They] also deserved to be protagonists on this night.”
Camoranesi and Trezeguet’s careers continue in Argentina. Nedved, since retired, remains in Juventus’ front office.
But even before those departed stars were acknowledged, one man deserved to share the spotlight with Buffon.
“I thought of many people in these moments and there are many dedications to make, first of all to Alessandro Del Piero, as finally we were able to celebrate together again.”
Del Piero didn’t make it off the bench on Sunday. Controversially, this will be his final season with the club, with president Andrea Agnelli announcing to shareholders in October that the club’s all-time leader in appearances and goals would not be offered a new deal.
“My experience here has been wonderful, with great happiness and enthusiasm, embracing my teammates tonight and in all the games whether I played or not,” del Piero admitted, briefly ducking out of Juve’s champagne shower. “It was a little strange, but right now I only want to smile.”
Elsewhere in Italy
- The last unresolved issue in Italy: Who will get third place (and the Champions League spot that goes with it). Udinese has the inside track, but Lazio and Napoli are each still alive.
- Udinese clinches the spot with a win or draw. If they lose, Udinese need both Lazio to lose and Napoli to lose or draw.
- Lazio needs to win while Udinese loses.
- Napoli needs to win while Udinese loses and Lazio loses or draws.
- Time’s run out for Parma. Winners of seven of their last eight, the Gialloblu sit only five points behind Inter for the last European spot. The driving force behind the charge: Former Juve prospect Sebastian Giovinco, whose Sunday opener gives him 15 goals for the season.
- Francesco Totti scored twice as Roma drew Catania on Saturday. He’ll need two more Sunday at Cesena if he’s to make it 10 straight years of double-digit league goals.
- That game may be Luis Enrique’s last. Andre Villas-Boas is widely reported to be in line to take over at Roma, with Enrique set to exit after only one year at the Olimpico.
- Fiorentina’s interim coach Vincenzo Guerini managed three points for La Viola three days after the Adem Ljajic-Delio Rossi debacle. Amazingly, Fiorentina can still manage a top-half finish, though Ljacic and Rossi continue exchanging barbs. Rossi’s labeled the 20-year-old Serbian spoiled and a brat, while Ljajic denied directing a mother-referencing vulgarity at the his former manager in the wake of his mid-week substitution.
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