Craig Gordon holds nothing but admiration for Gianluigi Buffon, and yet he still wishes the immortal Italian would hurry up and pack it in.

At 45 and back with Parma in Serie B, Buffon seemingly still considers retirement a ridiculous notion. And, as long as he’s still pulling on the gloves, his example will continue to be put in front of Gordon as a ‘look what you could still achieve’ nudge on the arm. The way the injured Hearts keeper puts it, though, it starts to feel like a kind of guilt-tripping.

“Yeah, I wish he would quit and then it would make it a bit easier, give you something to aim for,” Gordon joked. “But he keeps on going. It is crazy how long he’s kept going. Maybe the weather is a bit warmer there and the winters are not quite as harsh.

“But, yeah, it is incredible that he is still playing. It is a league down from the top league in Italy, but the standard is still very, very good so for him to still be playing at that level is incredible. Who knows if I can ever go on that long? At the moment, it is about trying to get back from this injury. That will be my focus.

“You see it in other sports, guys going on after their 40th birthday, into their mid-forties. It still feels like a long way away even though I have just turned 40. It is about taking one season at a time – and at this moment in time it is about even less than that. It is about how far I can move this along and get it as good as I can give myself the opportunity to come back at some point next season.”

Gordon’s circumstances are, of course, quite different to Buffon at this moment in time. A double leg break sustained against Dundee United on Christmas Eve puts any thoughts of long-term future on hold for the 40-year-old. He is pleased with how an arduous recovery is going, although appears to accept that returning to top-level football is not a given.

He does, however, continue to be motivated by the fact he has overcome significant injury hurdles in the past. After leaving Sunderland in 2012, persistent knee problems ensured Gordon did not return to the game for two years. Joining Celtic proved a career renaissance, one that allowed him to add major trophies to his collection of personal accolades.

Returning to Hearts was the right move at the right time, re-establishing him as arguably the top keeper in Scotland. Gordon is, therefore, taking encouragement from the fact he’s made a career out of bouncing back.

“Yeah, for this one, yeah, there has been questions asked about whether I will get back,” he said. “At this moment in time those will remain until I can get back and I can prove, firstly to myself, that I can still perform and can still do the things that I need to be able to do to get back to this level. So, yeah, this is an ongoing process of having to prove people wrong all over again. You never stop doing that all through your career.”

And that must come with a certain degree of personal satisfaction? 

READ MORE: Craig Gordon injury update as Hearts keeper plays down return for now

“Absolutely, yes, without a doubt,” he said. “That is always one of the most satisfying things in football, whether it is denying a striker a goal, proving people wrong by coming back from injury, proving people wrong by playing on at the age I am. These are all motivating factors I can use to help in this situation. If there is anything I can use to motivate myself I will do.

“You have got to keep coming back, take these setbacks because there is hardly a player in the world who doesn’t have them. You have got to come back. For me, that shows the level of player, that ability to come back. I have had to do it a few times so I am well used to it now, whether it is through form or another player playing better and getting in team or injury. There are always things to go and prove and to go and achieve.”

With Euro 2024 qualifiers on the horizon in March and plenty to play for at Tynecastle, it will be a difficult watching berth for Gordon over these next few months. It must be dangerously easier for long-term injured players to start feeling a sense of disconnection as life at the club continues without them.

But by remaining visible, Gordon believes he’s not only benefitting himself but providing extra motivation to those still lucky enough to be still be stepping out on the pitch.

“I’ve spoken to the [Scotland] backroom staff, I’ve seen them at games when they have been coming to watch,” Gordon said. “I have been speaking to the sports scientists there and I speak to anyone who can help and give an opinion on what I’m doing in terms of rehab. It’s great to have all that behind me, great guys at the club who are working day in day out with me and I feel we’re really doing well. There are a few of us on the long-term injury list and there have been some difficult injuries in there but being part of that group and seeing how hard everyone is working to get back, I think we can use that to motivate the guys who are in the team, they see how hard everyone is working trying to get back and making sure they are on their toes and working every week.”