Buffon’s arrival at PSG puts Areola in a difficult position
The goalkeepers are 15 years apart in age, with a chasm of experience and achievement separating them, but Areola has reason to feel let down after establishing himself as PSG’s No. 1 last season.
The last thing he probably expected was for PSG to sign Buffon, who, although still among the world’s best ‘keepers, turns 41 in January.
Buffon, who made 656 appearances for Juventus and 176 for Italy, was expected to retire after winning a seventh straight Serie A title.
Then PSG made contact in May, offering the 2006 World Cup winner a one-year deal with the option for another season.
In only his second match, Buffon made an astonishing reflex save. He looked beaten by Guingamp striker Nolan Roux’s shot down the middle as he dived instinctively to his left, but showed incredible reflexes and speed of thought to stick out his right hand and push the ball onto the crossbar.
It was a unique-looking save yet typical Buffon, who has established himself as arguably the best goalkeeper of the modern era.
Areola may not have enjoyed watching it.
That wonder save hardly suggested Buffon’s level is about to drop anytime soon, especially with the prospect of another year’s contract and — perhaps — one last Italy hurrah at the 2020 European Championship.
Furthermore, joining PSG fuels Buffon’s ambition to finally win the Champions League — having lost in three finals.
“Alphonse fully realizes what the situation is,” France coach Didier Deschamps — Buffon’s former coach at Juventus — said Thursday. “This isn’t something Alphonse aspires to, especially after such a good season.”
Deschamps can offer words of encouragement to Areola when France’s players meet up during next week’s international break.
“I will speak to him. He’s coming off a season where he established himself,” Deschamps said. “He’s surely going to play a bit less, which doesn’t take anything away from the quality Alphonse has. Obviously he would have hoped for more continuity.”
Ever the pragmatist, France’s World Cup-winning coach thinks Areola should make the most of “rubbing shoulders” with an all-time great like Buffon.
“Having known him (Buffon) personally, on a human level he’s very generous with his time,” said Deschamps, who coached Buffon for one season. “Alphonse will be attentive to what he says.”
Still, eyes were raised when PSG’s recently appointed coach Thomas Tuchel went for Buffon — despite having Areola.
After competing for the No. 1 jersey with Kevin Trapp during 2016-17, Areola fought off Trapp to become first choice. He was among Ligue 1’s most consistent goalkeepers last season, albeit in a dominant team as PSG won another domestic treble. In one match, he bailed out PSG by making eight saves against Bordeaux.
Also, Areola was among PSG’s best players when it went out to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, making brave saves in Madrid.
He was called up to France’s World Cup squad as No. 3 ‘keeper in Russia. Five years ago, he tasted international success at the under-20 World Cup — saving two shots in the penalty shootout as France beat Uruguay in the final.
Buffon misses PSG’s first three matches of this season’s Champions League, after being suspended for his red card in this season’s quarterfinal defeat against Madrid and for comments about the referee.
However, PSG usually dominates group stages and Areola’s performances in those matches won’t be crucial.
Further in the competition Tuchel is almost certain to pick Buffon, because PSG has sorely lacked leadership qualities on the field at crucial times. Despite mass investment from Qatari owners QSI since their 2011 takeover, the club has not been beyond the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
There have been embarrassing moments such as the 6-1 defeat away to Barcelona in 2017 and last season PSG was found wanting against Madrid.
Tuchel will count on Buffon’s iron mental strength and unflinching will. When a team’s under big pressure, Buffon offers his teammates massive reassurance.
Areola simply does not have such stature.