Written by Aarav Singh, a grade 5 student.
Many remember Roberto Baggio for missing the crucial penalty shot that cost Italy the FIFA World title in 1994. But, for those who really understand and appreciate football, Roberto Baggio will remain one of the greatest footballers Italy has ever produced.
A footballer in the making
Roberto Baggio was born into a large family in Caldogno, Italy. He was the sixth among eight siblings. Roberto showed his keenness for football very early. He used his father’s garage for practice and often broke windows with his football. Roberto’s talent was recognized very early by Antonio Mora, a football scout. Roberto was acquired by The Vicenza Youth team for 300 pounds.
There’s a funny incident: Once, at the family dinner, grades were being discussed, and Roberto’s silenced, everyone. Looking at Roberto his father asked, “Any improvements?” “Well… they are giving me a salary…and ummm….a good one.” Roberto timidly replied. “Great you can repay me for those broken windows in the garage,” his father said with an air of annoyance. Everyone burst into laughter at the dinner table. A smirk formed on Roberto’s and his father’s faces.
A mishap and a discovery
With Vicenza Youth Team and later at 15, with Vicenza Serie C1 squad, Roberto showed to the world that a remarkable footballer had arrived. But, then trouble came in the form of a shattered knee while attempting a slide tackle. Roberto was only 18 and his career was about to end! And just when his transfer to Fiorentina had been finalized.
For Roberto, football was his life and he was not ready to give it up. And Fiorentina, recognizing his talent, not only went ahead with the transfer but also agreed to pay for Baggio’s knee treatment. The surgery was very difficult. Roberto had to suffer 220 stitches and that too without painkillers as he was allergic to them. At one point, unable to bear the pain, he begged his mother, “Kill me if you love me.”
Roberto was determined to recover as soon as possible from his surgery. He walked all the time and visited a local music store every day. The owner, Carlo Mazzone, seeing Roberto’s struggle, introduced him to Buddhism. Roberto, not only benefited in his recovery but became a lifelong practitioner of Buddhism.
A stellar career
Roberto became a star footballer playing for Fiorentina from 1985 to 1990. He also acquired his famous ponytail. He was transferred to Juventus for a record fee. Roberto led Juventus to a UEFA title in 1993.
From Juventus, he moved to AC Milan where he did not have a satisfactory run. In 1997, Roberto transferred to Bologna. He scored a career-high of 22 goals in the 1997-98 season with Bologna. This helped him sign a lucrative deal with Inter Milan. He played for 2 years with Inter Milan. Roberto’s last years as a professional footballer were with Brescia.
Roberto Baggio was not just only a star professional footballer, he played brilliantly for his country too. Baggio began playing for Italy in 1988 and was part of the Italian team in the 1990 World Cup. Then, during the 1994 World Cup, Baggio was a star Italian player, till the unfortunate incident in the final opposite Brazil. Baggio took the final penalty shoot-out for Italy and sent the ball over the crossbar. Italy lost, and Baggio was shattered. Football lovers and sports journalists, however, applauded Baggio’s skills as a player.
A great footballer and a great human
In 1993, Baggio won the FIFA World Player of the Year Award. In 2004, the legendary Pele included Baggio in the list of FIFA 100 of the world’s greatest living players. In 2003, Baggio became the first player to be awarded the Golden Foot. A new docudrama on the Netflix title, Baggio: The Divine Ponytail, celebrates Roberto Baggio’s many accomplishments and successes.
Roberto Baggio is much more than a gifted footballer who wore a ponytail. He is a Buddhist and a philanthropist. As a goodwill ambassador for Food and Agriculture Organization, he helped raise funds for victims of the Haiti earthquake. He supported the Myanmar pro-democracy movement of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2010, Baggio was awarded the Man of Peace prize by the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Roberto Baggio will continue to inspire people to give their 100 per cent on the field and off it.