MILAN • As Juventus look to end a 21-year wait for the Champions League title, there are those who believe Gianluigi Buffon can be the first custodian in 54 years to be crowned the top footballer in Europe.
The rock of a team who recently embellished their growing pedigree with a record sixth consecutive Serie A title and a record third successive league and Cup double, Buffon, many believe, is in firm contention for the Ballon d'Or.
Given the dominance in recent years of Cristiano Ronaldo, a key threat on Saturday when Juventus meet Real Madrid in Cardiff, and Barcelona nemesis Lionel Messi, such an accolade is not to be underestimated.
Especially considering the only previous goalkeeper honoured was Russian legend Lev Yashin, in 1963.
Many have come close, including Buffon, who in 2006 finished second to Italy team-mate and Real defender Fabio Cannavaro.
But to match the feats of Yashin, known as the "Black Spider" for acrobatic goalkeeping feats that wowed the beautiful game in the 1960s, is going to take some doing.
AC Milan legend Gianni Rivera, who finished second to Yashin in the 1963 vote, has echoed many in the game who believe Buffon will only get close if Juve are crowned European champions.
The 73-year-old recently told Corriere della Sera: "Buffon deserves to win it for what he's still doing on the pitch. If he wins the Champions League, it will be the crowning glory of what has been an extraordinary career."
Now 39 and heading towards retirement following next year's World Cup in Russia, Buffon remains one of the world's best.
In a season that has seen Juventus ditch a conservative 3-5-2 formation for a more inventive and attacking 4-2-3-1 in which defensive duties remain a priority, he has been superb, especially in Europe.
Defender and team-mate Giorgio Chiellini said: "I'm lucky to have played all my career alongside Buffon. He deserves the Ballon d'Or for what he's achieved this year. I hope he wins it, but it would be a consequence of us winning in Cardiff."