The big interview: Gianluigi Buffon – "You have to be a real masochist to play in goal – and a bit perverse"

The Italian legend aims to finally add the Champions League to his trophy collection as Juventus face Real Madrid on Saturday. Here's our exclusive sit-down with the shot-stopper from July 2014

Is it true you started out as a midfielder? How did you end up between the sticks?
Ryan Stone, via email 

Yeah, it’s true. I guess every kid starts off playing football wanting to score goals rather than keep them out. Was I a striker as well? Yes, for a while. I was OK at it; I enjoyed it. I ended up in goal by chance, really. My dad pushed me towards it a bit, but then I also really wanted to be like Thomas N’Kono, the Cameroon goalkeeper. I was a bit reluctant at first, but the [1990] World Cup was on and I’d watch that great Cameroon side. N’Kono was such an important member of the team. 

Your dad came second at the European Athletics Junior Championship and your mum was a champion shot-putter. Did she teach you how to throw a football?
Ben Driver, via email 

My dad, my mum, my sister – everybody. Shot put? No, no, it was the discus. She was an Italian record holder in the event. But yeah, my father was a really good athlete as well – it was a very sports-minded family. Did it help me growing up? I think so, yes. You take sports more seriously, perhaps. You certainly have the support of your family, which is important.

Papa and Mama Buffon were athletic types back in the day

A good goalkeeper is vital for a good team, just as valuable as a good striker"

Who were your heroes as a kid – and who would you say is the best goalkeeper ever?
Fiona Makepeace, via email 

Oh, I had lots of heroes, but none were particularly conventional. There was N’Kono, but also his team-mate, Roger Milla. I really loved to watch Cameroon – they were my second team after Italy. I was a big tennis fan as well and I always liked [Ivan] Lendl, [Stefan] Edberg and [Pat] Rafter.

I heard that your professional debut for Parma saw you face Milan – and Weah, Baggio and Savicevic. Is that right? Were you as confident and vocal then as you are now?
Massimo Robinson, via email 

It was a beautiful day, a beautiful experience – the realisation of a dream I’d worked towards for years. And I had a good game. I didn’t let in any goals [the match finished 0-0]. I was confident, and where I wanted to be. Did I have a shout at the defenders? I think so. I hope so. It’s what goalkeepers do.

Much was made of your €45 million transfer fee when you joined Juventus in 2001. How blown away were you when you heard that fee? What would you say to someone who believes no keeper is worth that much?
Leon Adams, via email 

It was a big satisfaction for me. I really didn’t have any problems with it at all. In that sort of transfer market, I was seen as... we could say a phenomenon of sorts, but that was down to the price tag more than anything else. Juventus went to see me play, thought “f***, this Buffon really is a phenomenon” and paid a lot of money for me. If they had paid five million rather than 45 then it wouldn’t have made such a big splash. But the market determines the price. A good goalkeeper is vital for a good team, just as valuable as a good striker. And sometimes just as expensive. Would I have signed for Juve for five million? Yeah, I would. I’m not sure Parma would have been too happy, though...

Buffon spent 10 years at Parma before his big move to Juve

You suffered from depression 10 years ago and even reached the point where you were afraid to walk onto the pitch. Who knew about it, and why didn’t you take a break? 
Graham Dowling, via email 

Who knew about it? I knew about it. And I had to keep it to myself because, at the beginning at least, I didn’t really have the opportunities to be open about it; I didn’t know if I could talk about it to anyone. But then, very gradually, I would chat about it to friends, to team-mates, people really close to me, and I began to understand I had a problem and that it was something that could be dealt with and cured. I didn’t take a break because I felt this great responsibility to my team-mates and to people who relied on me; I didn’t want to let them down. And I didn’t feel like I could stop playing: I didn’t think that would be seen as an acceptable way of doing things, not with that responsibility. I had a European Championship to play in. [FFT: Has that attitude within the game changed towards depression?] I think so. I hope so. It helped to see a psychologist, but as I said, the support of friends and team-mates was a big thing for me.

How devastating was it to see Juventus’s titles stripped because of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal? It seemed to inspire Italy to glory at the World Cup; do you think you still would have won the tournament if it wasn’t for that scandal?
John Kerridge, Kent

On a professional level, as a player, to have all that success taken away from you like that was devastating, yes. It deprived me of future successes and it deprived me of two successes from the past [laughs bitterly]. We certainly arrived at the World Cup in Germany as the centre of attention and with the conviction that – in what was a delicate moment – we had to do something big on the pitch to respond to everything that had been going on. We were in determined mood, but then I never really thought we were going to win the tournament, so I’m not sure if it [Calciopoli] had much to do with it.