Paris Saint Germain's Gianluigi Buffon. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Even at 41, even after such a glorious career, Gianluigi Buffon is still searching. Searching for the perfect ending.
"For me, the Champions League will forever be the highest level, the best tournament to play in," Buffon says. "I say thank you for all the emotion the Champions League has given me. But I hope to have another opportunity to win it because it would be the perfect end to my career."
That opportunity continues when Paris Saint-Germain travel to face Manchester United tonight in the first leg of their hugely anticipated last-16 tie. Buffon will be in goal for PSG, having been lured away from his plans to retire at the end of last season when he left Juventus and when an exceptional career appeared to be closing.
The word "legend" is used freely in football, but it applies supremely to Buffon. "An honour to be part of your history," was one of the many birthday messages recently posted on social media for Buffon. It came from his PSG team-mate Neymar.
This is Buffon's 24th season since making his debut aged 17. His Italy career ended on 176 caps, and his honours include nine Serie A titles, five Italian Cups, a Uefa Cup and a World Cup win, in 2006. All he needs is the Champions League for the full set. It has not always been straightforward. Buffon (right) is a reflective character and in a recent interview with 'Vanity Fair' he spoke about his battle with depression early in his career.
Worry "It's not a problem for me to discuss that period of my life," he says now.
"It was very difficult and I would like to be an example for other people and be able to say to them, 'Guys, something like that can happen. But don't worry. You just have to work on it, work on yourself, just to go outside of that condition. It's very important'.
"Now I am fine and I can speak about this because I want to be that example to others."
Buffon is an example, and has been throughout his career. At PSG, he takes on a far greater role than simply as a player. Having believed his days in the jersey were over, it is fascinating to hear what he feared he would miss most.
"I close my mind," Buffon explains, closing his eyes. "For the five hours around the match, it is all I am focused on. I don't want to think about anything else. I love being in this condition. I am in this situation where I have prepared and then I wait and I wait and the match arrives and during it I realise my dream. Every time. It's my life, my role on the pitch."
What happens when he is no longer able to be in that "condition", that state of being? "This is a question that I put to myself just to say, 'Oh Gigi, what will happen when this situation changes?'" Buffon admits, laughing loudly. "And my answer is... I don't know, but I need to find a solution because I love football."
Last year, after 17 years with Juventus, he announced he was leaving, believing he was retiring, and began to think: What next?
"In that moment, I thought life was going to be different and I had to come to terms with that," Buffon says. "I like to play at the highest level or not at all. Never did I think Paris Saint-Germain would ask me to carry on.
"But, also, physically and mentally, I felt good last year. For me, it was a pity to stop. When PSG called me it was a great surprise, but then I was sure I wanted to perform again. I am here and life has directed me to continue. I have been given one last opportunity, because these things you feel inside yourself."
But it may not be his last season, after all. "There is an option for one more year [at PSG]," Buffon reveals. "And I hope to sign the renewal." (© Daily Telegraph, London)