Italy great Gianluigi Buffon played his final game for Juventus on Saturday before tearfully exiting after a 17-year career as storm clouds gathered during a 2-1 win over already relegated Verona.
Buffon who had captained Juventus to a seventh straight Serie A title and fourth consecutive Italian Cup triumph this season — took his final bow midway through the second half before rain came down and thunder rumbled over the Allianz Stadium.
It was the 656th game for the evergreen 40-year-old who arrived in Turin in 2001 from Parma for a then world record 52 million euros fee.
The goalkeeper and captain was substituted by coach Massimiliano Allegri to take an ovation before 40,000 emotional Juventus fans many with their eyes filling with tears.
Juventus were two goals up thanks to Daniele Rugani after 49 minutes and Miralem Pjanic three minutes later when Buffon came off the pitch.
He hugged all his teammates, on the field and on the bench, and then left the sidelines.
Goalkeeper Carlo Pinsoglio made his Serie A debut between the posts in his place.
Buffon had said he did not want anything special for his final game.
“I want to live this day normally. I ask nothing except what I have already had, esteem, affection and respect. The rest I do not need it. As a child, I did not like birthdays and be in the centre of attention,” Buffon had said.
But there was resounding applause and singing as the goalkeeper and Juventus captain emerged from the locker rooms before his final game.
He was accompanied onto the pitch at the Allianz Stadium by his three children — Louis Thomas and David Lee, with the youngest, Leopoldo, in the arms of his partner Ilaria D’Amico.
“There is only one number 1, there is only one number 1”, they sang in the tribunes before kick-off, as Buffon hugged his teammates one by one.
In the south tribune Juventus fans unfurled a banner: “Only those who try the absurd reach the impossible”.
A giant flag with the image of the goalkeeper covered the stand.
There were messages “17 years with you. Thanks Gigi”, “Gigi Buffon, immortal hero” and “Gigi, Santo Subito”.
Buffon embraced each of his teammates including his successor Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny and new captain Giorgio Chiellini and took his place in between the posts for his final game.
The crowd cheered his every move with his first save made after quarter of an hour against Algerian winger Mohamed Fares.
The moment everyone was waiting for came after 63 minutes as Buffon again hugged every teammate, every member of staff, waved at the crowd until he got to the bench, rested his head back and sighed with eyes closed, before leaving the sidelines.
– ‘Simply the best’ –
Teammates also paid tribute with Sami Khedira tweeting: “It has always been an honour for me to play side to side with a living legend. Glad we can celebrate another Scudetto today!”
“100 games together, 1,040 days, smiles, tears, hugs,” tweeted Paulo Dybala.
“You’ve taught me so much. You are the captain of my successes. I wish you to be happy in the future my captain, I will miss you. Today we must have fun together again.”
After winning the Italian Cup, SuperCup and UEFA Cup with Parma, Buffon went on to claim nine Serie A titles, four Italian Cups and five SuperCups with Juventus, in addition to winning the 2006 World Cup with Italy.
On the pitch Alessio Cerci pulled one back for the Verona after 76 minutes, ending Juventus’s bid for a record 23 games in one season without conceding a goal.
It was also the final game for Ghanian Kwadwo Asamoah and Swiss Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Juventus had wrapped up the Serie A title last Sunday in Rome, but lifted the trophy for the 34th time after the game.
The storm did not stop hundreds of fans, many of whom had gathered outside, lining the route as the open top bus then made its way to the centre of the city.
Despite trailing Napoli for much of the season Juventus ended the campaign with 95 points from 30 wins including 16 at home.”We fought with Napoli throughout the year, we tip our hats to them, but we were the best,” said Allegri.
“We missed the icing on the cake, which is the Champions League, but we can’t know how it would have ended in extra time against Real Madrid,” he added of a match in which Buffon was controversially sent off.