The Indomitable Lions great and the Juventus stopper are unlikely best mates
Thomas N’Kono’s legendary career has made him an inspiring figure for African goalkeepers and one of the most respected and beloved shot-stoppers for all in Spanish, African and world football.
He even inspired a living legend like Gianluigi Buffon, who watched on aged 12 at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and who found an idol to follow.
The two have a great relationship these days.
Sharing an anecdote about the Italian, N’Kono recalled: “I remember when Buffon was starting out at Parma and was at the 1998 World Cup in France.
“I came across Buffon with Patrick M’Boma and he told me ‘this is the future goalkeeper of the Italian national team’.”
Cameroon and Italy were both drawn in Group B, with Italy winning the match between them 3-0 in Montpellier.
“So, I asked him ‘will you come to my testimonial?’ and Buffon replied by saying that he would love to. I thought it was a joke, though, and didn’t think he would come,” N’Kono recalled.
“Later, we played Italy in the World Cup and I repeated the question of ‘are you coming to my testimonial, then?’ and he said again that he would, but that I should ask his club if he could come.
“He then signed for Juventus and I sent an invitation to the club, but I never received a reply,” he continued. “The day that we were set to travel to Cameroon for the testimonial match, he called me just before the flight. ‘I’m in Paris’, he told me. ‘What do you mean you’re in Paris?’ I replied and he said ‘yes, I’m coming to your match’.
“I drove to the other airport to find him and that’s how we both went together to my match in Cameroon. From there, a great friendship was born.
“When he became a father, he named his son Louis Thomas after me. He never told me that and I found out through the press, which was a great surprise and something I’ll always be grateful for.”
Curiously, even 20 years after that testimonial, the two players are still active in the world of football…and very active, with N’Kono working in a coaching capacity at Espanyol and Buffon still active.
“I’ve told Buffon that he needs to have his testimonial soon because I need to go to it and take to the pitch, even if just for two minutes!” N’Kono joked.
Those couple of minutes would be N’Kono’s last footballing act in front of the cameras, while he’ll keep sharing his wisdom away from the lenses at RCD Espanyol.