You score goals as a kid. Then you grow up stupid and become a goalkeeper. Gianluigi Buffon
Thank God Gianluigi Buffon grew up stupid. During the era of Christian Vieri, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and Pippo Inzaghi, Italy were blessed with goalscorers, so 'Superman's' childhood goalscoring exploits would have been rendered pointless should he have pursued a career as a number nine rather than a number one.
Over 20 years ago, the 'Azzurri' were embroiled in a tense World Cup qualification playoff with Russia in the middle of a Moscow blizzard, when Gianluca Pagliuca was forced off with an injury. Enter the 19-year-old Parma stopper. Four years removed from his eventual world record breaking £31m move to Juventus (a record that still stands some 16 glorious years, later), Buffon would demonstrate, with a vital save from Dmitry Alenichev, the almost unparalleled match winning ability that has so far seen him earn a further 174 international caps.
It wasn't long before the likes of Pagliuca and Peruzzi were left trailing in Buffon's wake, as the prodigious Parma stopper cemented himself not only as one of Italy's finest goalkeepers, but the world's.
A broken hand cruelly robbed him of his place at Euro 2000, but since then, he's more than made up for lost time, reaching a record breaking five World Cups (lifting the trophy in 2006) and four European Championships while becoming synonymous with the 'Azzurri' as a constant, ageless fixture, remaining almost perfectly preserved for a string of vintage performances every other Summer.
It's safe to say, during Gigi's two decades between the sticks for the Italian national team, there were more than a few match (and tournament) winning saves that proved just as vital as every poached Pippo tap in, every immaculate Pirlo free kick and every ankle biting Gattuso challenge.
Now, as 'Superman' celebrates his 40th birthday, here's a few of his finest efforts in the blue of the 'Azzurri'...
Buon compleanno, Gigi. You brilliant, gorgeous bastard.