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wings of Freedom

Bentivoglio and Buffon, Italy applauds you

The controller passed into the other wagon. I can go out. How many trips have I made locked in the bathroom because I didn’t have a ticket, because of a mistake (as on this occasion), or because of a lack of money, or by choice? I should have counted them, the data would have ended up in my statistics. Penalty shots tot, goals conceded tot, goals saved tot, trips without ticket tot.

My three traveling companions, Morello, Ferrarini and Magnani, meet in the compartment. Danger escaped. Then, suddenly, the sliding door opens. Pfiuu. It is not the controller, but a boy and a girl. Nice. We are returning from Rome to Parma. We start talking and they ask us if we are soccer players. We wear overalls. We tell him that we are returning from the Under 15 European Championship in Turkey. Then the boy lights up.

«Yes, I read a newspaper, there was an article … He spoke beautifully of a porter. What’s your name…? Buffon, I think. “

“It’s me.”

It is a hot day in May 1993 and it is the first time that notoriety caresses me. I feel a twinge of pride, but also the feeling that something has changed, something new happened in my life. But it was not an easy path.

 Two years earlier, I was greeting my parents through the window of a bus. The emotion passed through me as the goalkeepers were brought together by the coaches. I had only one year as a goalkeeper behind me and I did not yet have a great technique. I had some fears. It was all new, from football to everyday life.

I had left my family, my home to stay in a boarding school. The Maria Luigia, right in front of the Tardivi, the Panna stadium. My first night I had roommates Andrea Tagliapietra, Steve Ballanti, who is still my friend, we sometimes talk to each other, and Antonio Venturini. With Antonio we stayed in a double room for two months, then he returned home. He missed his family.

I was also not happy at the beginning. The college, already only with the sound of the word, does not favor positive feelings. Over time, however, you begin to love him because you feel “institutionalized”. It is an expression that has remained in my head since I saw The Wings of Freedom, that beautiful film that tells a story set in a prison. A whole other matter, however, even in the worst conditions or where the rules are imposed on you, you can keep yourself intact.

In a college you face / meet with people who have big problems and risk ruining even those who are animated by the best intentions. Many boys had difficult family situations, fathers in jail, mothers in disarray. There were those who dealt, smoke or even heavier stuff. There was also someone who was bullying, but with me they always happened badly. There were those who wanted to command, who wanted to give orders to demonstrate his superiority, because he did not find it in himself and then he had to build it artificially. But physically I was already big and big and then, even if I am a mild man, one who tries to have good relationships with everyone, I have never endured the arrogant or worse, who wanted to prevaricate on others. If they tried once, with me, there was none of Mr., a second time.

 I was their age, and every age of my life I have lived it all the way. I mean that some stupid things I did, like starting to smoke when I was fourteen (now it may seem like a trifle, but because we are in a bad way, we are used to even the worst things and everything goes overhead) or go and see those who reeled the reeds. Maybe then, many years ago, I even took a shot, sometimes. Never enough to be positive against doping … also because in youth leagues they don’t.

But in the end the college is a gym of life. Not in the sense that you have bad experiences, but that you learn to avoid them and in those situations you realize how important the education you have received is. Because if I did stupid things, I never repeated it the same.

Every now and then I think about it, reviewing the roundup of faces, of boys, of encounters that have dotted my way. People who didn’t make it into a footballer, yet they’ve been there with me for four or five years. They ended up doing any job, respectable, but not what they had struggled for years.

 When I think about it I always come to the same conclusion: all I have is for the sacrifices I’ve made before, not for what I’m doing now.

And then I was running. Wake up, breakfast, 13 lunch, 13.45 quick to take the bus for training. I ate with the funnel. Day after day, every day except two hours of freedom on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, when, if you wanted, you could go to the stadium to watch the Panna home game.

Girls? Mah. Some at school, but there was no time. It was such a life. A life where the boundary between maturity and immatu-rites is subtle, where failure can be avoided thanks to a small episode.

Ours was the provincial championship and it was not very demanding. We played against the parish teams. You had no way of showing off. In February there was a friendly, a test. It was the kind of game it took to try out new players, a bit like the ones I played when they were interested in me. There was a goalkeeper of my age on probation, there were managers and coaches I did it a bit ‘to show that I had no rivals and took a stupid goal.

Fabrizio Latini, head of the youth sector stopped me when I left the pitch.

“Try to change, otherwise you will go home.”

It was a warning, but for me it was like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly I realized that even though I was a boy and that was, after all, still a game, he already had professional rules. I had entered the world of work almost without ac-corgermene. I was in competition. A month later we went to play a tournament in Genoa, Molassana, with Genoa, Sarnpdoria and Entella, Chiavari’s team.

We won in the final, against Genoa, I saved three penalties and also scored mine: among other things, I was the first penalty taker. I continued to take penalties until I turned professional, and it is no coincidence that on Berlin night, as everyone knows, I was offered to go on the spot. I only stopped because now there are excellent penalty takers in front of me, but I’m always ready, if necessary.

 That day, in Molassana, they rewarded me as the best goalkeeper and fit the turning point, the esteem and trust of the coaches began to take place.

At that time my coach was Ermes Polli, called “the postman”, a Panna legend: more than three hundred matches with the cross shirt. He did double duty, played soccer and delivered the mail.

In June I finished the third grade and I enrolled in Accounting, at Bodoni. At the college there were Classic and Scientific, but I was careful not to take them into consideration. Cos) it was harder, because having to attend an external school and I had very little time available for me, but at least I changed the air.

I had also left anonymous. I started to join the national team and was summoned by Sergio Vatta, U-15 coach. Destination Glasgow, my second trip by plane, the longest I had done so far. It was the qualifying for the European which would have been played in Turkey.

My hopes, my dreams took shape, they became reality, performances, small businesses. In Turkey, in May 1993 we reached the final where we were defeated by Poland There was Francesco Totti, who was the same as he is now, there was Vigiani, who plays in Reggina, there were my companions from Parma, those of the train, those without tickets.

 In Turkey both in the quarter-finals and in the semi-finals he ended up on penalties and I did my best: against Spain I saved two and scored mine, against the Czech Republic I made my mistake instead, but in return I took three. It was then that the Gazzetta dello Sporta headlined, on the front page:

BENTIVOGLIO AND BUFFON,

ITALY APPLAUDES YOU

It was the first newspaper headline of my life and I shared it with a girl, Francesca Bentivoglio, one year older than me (born in 1977), a young tennis player who in those days, starting from qualifying, had reached the quarterfinals of the International of Italy in Rome. Francesca left tennis early, preferring to do more.

 Fate, what a strange tangle. When we returned to Italy we stopped in Rome as guests of Matto Vladovich, now secretary of the Football Federation. He got us tickets for Rome-Turin (5 to 4 for the grenades, a result you don’t forget) and I passed right next to the Foro Italico, where my “title partner” had obtained his portion of fame.

I, as I always did, I went to watch the game on bends. Because, if as a goalkeeper I had just put my wings, going beyond the doors of fame, as a uttrà my career had long been that of a professional.

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