TORONTO — Gianluigi Buffon has been through the good and the bad with Juventus.
At 33 years old, the stellar goalkeeper is set to embark with the club on another cycle, one that he hopes will take them back to the top of Serie A where they were in 2002 and 2003.
The process is beginning under a new manager, former Juventus star Antonio Conte, with Saturday’s World Football Challenge match against Sporting Clube de Portugal at BMO Field. (7 pm ET, ESPN Deportes)
I Bianconeri, who have won the Seria A title a record 29 times, are coming off their second successive seventh-place finish in the Italian league, and Buffon says this is a new cycle and it will take time for the team to return to the upper echelons.
“In all new projects, whenever you begin, there is the enthusiasm of everyone,” Buffon said through a translator before training at BMO Field. “But we’re only at the beginning of this project right now with the new team.
“We have to look at our objective, which is to become an important team again. We have to overcome the obstacles that we will encounter. We really need to look at this for a full year before you can make decision on how the team is doing.
Juventus will have a full season to concentrate solely on returning to the top in Italy after missing out on qualifying for European competitions.
The team has been together for preseason for less than two weeks, but already Conte sees the players’ dedication and will hope to get more out of his players when they take on Sporting Clube.
“We’re in the initial phases of out preparation,” the manager said through a translator. “We’ve been together for 10, 11 days. Both tactically and physically, we’re working to better ourselves every day. [The game vs. Sporting] will be the first test.”
La Vecchia Signora will also measure up against Mexican sides Club América and Guadalajara during the World Football Challenge.
The squad Conte brought along on the US tour is loaded. Aside from Buffon, players from Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad that are with Juventus for the tournament are strikers Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, newly acquired midfielder Andrea Pirlo and defender Andrea Barzagli.
The roster also includes such Italian national-team regulars as Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Simone Pepe, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri as well as new signings Reto Ziegler, Stefan Lichtsteiner and Michele Pazienza.
“I’m working with the players that I have at my disposition at the moment,” Conte said, “and some players are emerging better as time goes on. I’m very happy with what I have to work with, but I’m sure we will reinforce the team even more.”
Once such reinforcement is Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, who told media he signed with Juventus from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. He was travelling to Italy to complete the deal and is not on the team’s roster for WFC.
“He’s a complete player,” Conte said of the team’s newest acquisition. “He’s dynamic and he scored 10 goals last year with Bayer Leverkusen. He’s a player with a lot of quality.”
With things looking up, Buffon predicts Juventus return to the top is inevitable.
“I think we will work hard and become an important team again,” the goalkeeper affirmed.