Roberto Baggio is a player who in his career caused riots in Florence and missed a penalty that cost Italy the World Cup.
Many of us remember the ponytailed wonder of Italian football stepping up to take Italy’s fifth penalty kick in the 1994 World Cup final.
We also remember his sending the ball up and over the bar, falling to his knees and Brazil consequently lifting the trophy.
Baggio was a pioneer of his footballing generation, who set the field alight when he played, with fantastic silky smooth elegance and skill on the ball.
In an interview at the Festival Dello Sport, he enlightens on some key moments in his career.
While he started his career in Vicenza, he made his name at Fiorentina.
He arrived in Florence in 1985 but sat out almost the entire first two years of his time there through injury.
But he was a fan favorite, they worshipped the ground he walked on.
“I arrived at Fiorentina after a serious injury, so I didn’t play for two years and in the third, I still wasn’t fully recovered.”
“The injuries were a nightmare. The day after the first operation on my knee, I asked my Mother to kill me.”
“When I did play well, I felt that I was in debt to those fans who waited for me.”
“A profound bond was created with the Fiorentina fans and I tried so hard to remain with the Viola.”
“But everything had been decided for me. I just wish they’d been clearer.”
In 1990 apparently against his wishes, the Viola cashed in on Baggio selling him for a then-world record of eight million pounds.
The fans were so disgusted, the city was overrun for three days by riots.
“There were three days of chaos, the fans did not accept the situation and I felt guilty at being the cause of all this.”
“Although I was the last to blame.”
“I always said the truth, but what really happened only emerged after 20 years.”
At Juventus, his abilities were recognised and in 1993 he was awarded the UEFA European Player of the Year and the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
“I didn’t expect them, as I was thinking about the team and Juve really struggled to be in Serie A at the same time as the Grande Milan side.”
In 1994 came the fateful moment for which he has become synonymous.
The World Cup final penalty.
It was the US World Cup final of 1994, between two of the favorites, Brazil and Italy. The Pasadena, California, Rose Bowl was a packed house.
The game was rather underwhelming after it was billed as a battle of two of football’s greats.
The final score was 0-0. A penalty shootout.
Both sides missed their first and scored their second and third, Brazil scored their fourth and Italy missed theirs.
One penalty a piece to go and Italy’s fifth and final taker was the god of Italian football Roberto Baggio.
The unthinkable happened, and Baggio fell to his knees, as all his world came crashing down in one kick of the ball.
“I have never fired a penalty over the bar in my life, only that one time.”
“It wasn’t the last spot-kick, but it was the coup de grace.”
“Many times before going to sleep, that moment still appears in my mind.”
“As a child, I dreamed of playing a World Cup Final between Italy and Brazil.”
“The only thing I didn’t dream was that it could end with me missing a penalty.”
“I would’ve given anything to make up for the 1994 tournament.”
Baggio never really got the opportunity to make amends for the Azzurri. He wasa bit-part player in 1998 and was never selected for the 2002 tournament.
That is something he feels impacted his decision to simply walk away from the sport he loved.
An emotional Baggio concluded:
“I deserved to be there [2002 World Cup] and football owed it to me.”
“Perhaps that too is why I stepped away from the sport.”
With both AC Milan and Inter Milan. Lifting the Scudetto with AC as part of that great side that included Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, Desailly, Boban, Savicevic, and Weah.
Led of course by Fabio Capello.