Full Name: Roberto Baggio
Date of Birth: 18/2/1967
Roberto Baggio played football with a certain joie de vivre – blessed with an exciting blend of skill, technique and finesse he thrilled the masses. Throughout the nineties, Il Divin Codino, the Divine Ponytail in his native tongue, proved himself to be one of the most influential and exciting players in the world.
Unfortunately, despite his hypnotizing performances for both club and country, many will remember him for infamously skying his penalty to hand Brazil the World Cup in 1994. Nevertheless, the former World Player of the Year fought back, as he did throughout his career, in the most effective way – on the pitch.
In Caldongo, a small provincial town north of Vicenza, a star was born on 18 February 1967. Roberto Baggio, one of six children, loved the beautiful game from an early age and always had the ball at his feet.
After nine years playing youth football, the gifted trequartista had become a starlet, scoring for fun. At the end of one match, in which little Roberto had scored six goals, scout Antonio Mora persuaded the young star to join Serie C1 outfit Vicenza.
At first, Baggio had little chance to play at the Biancorossi, let alone shine, but when Bruno Giorgi was appointed manager that all changed. The new manager gave Vicenza a new found confidence, and by the end of the 1984-85 season his side were promoted to Serie B.
Baggio’s impressive haul of 12 goals in 29 games hadn’t gone unnoticed, and Serie A outfit Fiorentina snapped up the gifted number 10.
Fiorentina – Cult hero
Baggio’s start to life at the Gigliati wasn’t the best – not even making an appearance in his first season. When he finally made his debut, the omens weren’t exactly great either, as he was taken out of action with a serious knee injury. However, Baggio returned before the season finished and grabbed his first Viola goal against Scudetto champions elect Napoli.
The first goal opened the floodgates and Baggio’s recovery was impressive during the 1987/88 season, scoring nine goals. After this awe-inspiring start to the season, Baggio was called up to the Italian national side to face Holland in Rome.
This didn’t disrupt his club form though and, during the 1989/1990 season, he was unstoppable, netting 17 times in 32 games. The Viola almost got their hands on some silverware in the shape of the UEFA Cup, but were undone in the final by Juventus.
They then added insult to injury by taking Baggio himself in a €12 million move. The move caused chaos in Florence, as vexed fans took to the streets in a full-scale riot, leaving 50 people injured.
Entering the big leagues with Juve
Despite the uproar in Tuscany, and the disappointment that summer in World Cup 1990, the Divine Ponytail’s first season at Juve was a successful one – hitting 14 goals in 33 matches. Baggio’s second season in Turin saw him increase his tally to 18 – but it was the 1992-93 season where he really made his mark.
The campaign proved his best at Juventus, as he netted 21 times in just 27 league games, as well as leading Juve to the UEFA Cup – his first major trophy. Baggio’s inspiring performances continued the next season, as he reached 100 goals in Serie A.
The incredible form Baggio showed at all levels earned him worldwide recognition when he was awarded FIFA World Player of the Year, on top of the Ballon D’Or he had already collected.
However, the personal glory wasn’t matched with the biggest trophy of them all, when Italy came tantalisingly close to the World Cup. The knock-on effect was substantial mentally and physically, as a thigh injury picked up during the tournament plagued him the following season.
However, alongside a host of international stars and prodigious new talents, his Juventus side won the Scudetto, as well as the Coppa Italia. Despite being Baggio’s most successful season yet, it proved his last.
Allesandro Del Piero, Juventus’ new golden boy, edged Baggio out of the side and, when asked to cut a third off his original salary, he moved to AC Milan, having rejected deadly city rivals Inter.
AC Milan – A low point
Baggio’s move, at first, seemed a wise one, as he became the first player to win consecutive Scudettos with different clubs. However, under Fabio Capello, the Divine Ponytail contributed very little to the title triumph, as he was mostly deployed as a substitute.
When Taberez arrived at Milan, Baggio enjoyed fresh hope, but poor performances put an end to Taberez’s tenure and the entry of Sacchi marked the end of Baggio at Milan. The pair had become enemies after fallouts at Juventus and his appointment led to a move to Bologna.
Bologna – The resurrection
First and foremost, Baggio’s move to the Rossoblu spelt the end of his famous ponytail. A fresh look proved just the tonic to Baggio’s stalling career, as he regained his best form in Emilia-Romagna.
Complimented by a squad full of strength, pace and skill, Baggio scored a personal best of 22 goals in Serie A to reaffirm his place as one of the greatest strikers of the era. Not only that, it earned Baggio a place in Italy’s squad for the World Cup in France, and a move to Inter Milan at the end of the season.
Inter – A case of what could have been
Roberto’s fine form at Bologna didn’t continue at the Nerazzuri, despite leading the line alongside the exceptional Ronaldo. His first season was ruined by the side’s poor defence and injuries to the strike force – including Baggio himself.
The following season started full of expectation, as the powerful Christian Vieri joined them for a then world record transfer fee. However, hopes of a dream partnership were scrapped when Lippi took over, the man who dumped Roby back at Juve. Despite promises that he would retain his place, Baggio found himself on the fringes of the first team and his lack of first-team football hampered his hopes of a place at Euro 2000.
Despite the odd flash of brilliance at Inter, he found himself in a similar position to the one he endured at Inter’s city rivals, with his career beginning to stagnate. When Baggio’s contract ran out at the end of the season he left the club for pastures new – but nobody would have predicted his next move.
Brescia – A new challenge
After a few months of hard thought, and numerous offers, the enigmatic striker settled for a move to the unfashionable Brescia. The newly promoted outfit provided Baggio, who was approaching the end his career, with the opportunity for regular first team football, as well as allowing him to be close to his hometown of Vicenza.
As captain of the Rondinelle, the move that had shocked so many proved a great decision. Baggio’s leadership and skill saw Brescia, a side that had previously never stayed in Serie A for more than a season, escape the drop for each of the four seasons he was there.
Baggio’s understanding with manager Mazzone was crucial to the team’s success and his own form, as he notched 33 goals in 70 games in three seasons. Not a bad record for a man who was winding-down his career.
Baggio helped turn Brescia from Serie A newcomers to a high-quality side, full of international stars who played an exciting brand of football. The legend’s final season was the 2003/04 season, as he continued to impress at the ripe age of 37, scoring his 200th goal in Serie A against Parma, earning him a standing ovation from everybody in the stadium.
Baggio’s last game came against former club AC Milan on 16 May 2004 at the San Siro – a place where he suffered at the hand of managers at both sides. Baggio was called off in the 88th minute so he could receive his curtain call – and all 80,000 in the stadium stood to acknowledge one of the greatest footballers Italy has ever seen.
Baggio, the first Italian player in 50 years to score over 300 career goals, had his number 10 shirt retired by Brescia, and his legend will live forever in the heart of football fans.
Roberto Baggio will be remembered as one of Italy’s best ever players. In 56 games for the Azzurri, he scored 27 goals, becoming the fourth highest goalscorer for the team. Baggio played in 16 matches over three World Cups, becoming the first man for Italy to score in three separate tournaments. The nine goals he scored also makes him the highest scoring Italian in the tournament, alongside Christian Vieri and Paolo Rossi.
Roberto’s first World Cup was the 1990 tournament, hosted in his homeland. Great form for Fiorentina earned him a place in Azeglio Vicini’s squad. Although used mostly as a substitute, he displayed his undoubted quality, netting twice – including the goal of the tournament in the game with Czechoslovakia.
Italy finished third in that tournament but, four years later, they came within whiskers of lifting the trophy in the USA. Despite picking up a thigh injury in the semi-final, Baggio played in the final against Brazil, but his performance was hampered by the injury.
The game was decided on a penalty shootout and, unfortunately for Baggio, his penalty sailed over the bar and handed the trophy to his opponents. Baggio has since been blamed for costing Italy that World Cup, despite his heroics in arguably single-handedly carrying an aging team to the final.
Despite the heartache, a rejuvenated Baggio, fresh from his spell with Bologna, went to the World Cup ’98 in nearby France. In Italy’s opening game, Baggio won back those fans he had lost following World Cup ’94 by scoring the equaliser from the penalty spot against Chile.
The goal helped Italy on their way to topping their group, and they reached the quarter-finals before penalties stopped them once more. Baggio netted his penalty in the shootout but, despite his best efforts, the side went out to eventual champions France.
The tournament proved Baggio’s last World Cup, despite vociferous calls in 2002 for the-then 35 year old to be reinstated. The call never came, but Baggio’s performances over those three World Cup have shown him to be one of the best strikers to ever grace the Italian shirt.
- Serie C1 (1984-85)
- UEFA Cup (1992-93)
- Serie A (1994-95)
- Coppa Italia (1994-95)
- Serie A (1995-96)
- World Cup – Runner-up (1994)
- FIFA World Player of the Year – 1993
- Ballon d’Or/Golden Ball) – 1993
- Onze D’Or – 1993
- Azzurri Team of The Century – 2000
- FIFA Dream Team of All-Time – 2002
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