Raphael Honigstein had an enlightening interpretation on Thursday’s Football Weekly podcast. The German soccer writer was on The Guardian’s show when Franz Beckenbauer’s “pensioner” quote came up. The Germany and Bayern Munich legend had cast that label on Gianluigi Buffon after the Juve keeper’s performance on Tuesday, implicitly comparing the 35-year-old to somebody twice that age.
The comment was big news in Italy, but as Honigstein explained to the podcast’s panel, the remark was less an attempt at analysis than a flippant, off-the-cuff assessment. Beckenbauer, per Honigstein’s telling, sits in a television studio and just says what’s on his mind, often giving his reactions in the same voice that a fan might use for an offhand comment at the pub. It’s not that Buffon is a pensioner. It’s just that on David Alaba’s opening minute goal, he looked like one.
Good luck staying something like and expecting the Italian media to have a sense of humor about it. Buffon is a legend in Italy, the national team’s number one, and the starting goalkeeper for the country’s best club. Fair or not, jabs at players like Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, and Francesco Totti are sometimes interpreted as shots at Italian soccer itself.
Perhaps that’s why Beckenbauer has apologized:
“I apologise to Buffon if he felt offended by my words, as it was not my intention,” Beckenbauer told Bild.
“However, I remain convinced of my opinion: Buffon should’ve been able to block the first and second goals.”
I think most people feel the same. And most people know that Beckenbauer wasn’t being literal when he called Buffon a pensioner. But with Buffon and others having taken offense to Beckenbauer’s reaction, might as well apologize and move on. No point making a stand over something that was never intended to be serious in the first place.
The backlash on this one has been a little weird, though. I can’t shake the feeling that Juventus are reaching for something to rally around. Never underestimate the number of ways an athlete can perceive and use a slight, especially when that slight could take headline space away from a recent, disappointing result.
Buffon has already apologized to fans. He called Tuesday’s performance the worst of his Champions League career, so rolling with the pensioner jab wouldn’t have been that big a deal. Playing into it, however, has given his team a way to draw attention from their Tuesday letdown.