N’Kono went to three World Cups with the Indomitable Lions, and Cameroon’s run to the quarter-finals 27 years ago captured Buffon’s imagination
Of all the role models he could have picked, Gianluigi Buffon’s choice as the man who inspired him to become a legend of the goalkeeping union is as exotic as he is overlooked.
Dino Zoff, who lifted the World Cup for Italy in 1982? Nope, try again.
Angelo Peruzzi, Buffon’s illustrious predecessor between the posts for Juventus? Close, but no cigar.
Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks, Sepp Maier, international legends from before his time? Impeccable pedigrees, but wide of the mark.
From the Italia 90 World Cup, when most of us were entranced by Roger Milla’s scoring feats and lambada goal celebrations for Cameroon, Buffon’s all-time favourite is Thomas N’Kono, arguably the finest goalkeeper to come out of Africa.
N’Kono went to three World Cups with the Indomitable Lions, and Cameroon’s run to the quarter-finals 27 years ago captured Buffon’s imagination.
The Juventus No.1 said: “In the era of what I call the modern goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer is the best.
“He is obviously capable of making impossible saves, which all great goalkeepes need to be able to do, but he is also very strong with the ball at his feet. He can so often start the attack for Bayern and Germany.
“In English football, I like De Gea – he makes very good saves but he is also confident, he knows how to keep calm and lead from the back.
“But I remember watching the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where all the eyes of the world were on players like Diego Maradona and Gary Lineker, but I was mesmerised by Thomas N’Kono.
“It was the things he did for Cameroon during that World Cup that inspired me to become a goalkeeper myself.”