Roberto BaggioIl Divin Codino -Print
Roberto Baggio was born into a family of 8 brothers on February 18, 1967, in Caldogno near Vicenza in the north east of Italy, where his playing career began.
Baggio played most of his professional career in pain, only hitting full fitness for a handful of games a season. Yet for much of that time, he was considered one of the most extraordinary and creative players in the world. While Baggio played for all three of Italy’s giants (Juventus, Milan and Inter), he spent more time playing for the likes of Fiorentina, Bologna and Brescia. Beneath his copious flair and artistry, there was a core of steely endurance.
Aged just 18, he was victim to a career-threatening injury to his left knee, and was told by doctors he would never play again. He underwent pioneering surgery to have his knee rebuilt, which required in excess of 200 stitches. It was during this tough time that he was introduced to Buddhism, and started to read books on the subject. Formerly a Roman Catholic, he joined the Soko Gakkai International Buddhist organisation, which in a deeply devout and religious country, was considered highly controversial, and almost a bit 'weird'. Though few Italians understood his new spiritual beliefs, it added to his unique style. This, along with his unusual ponytail, earned him the popular nickname of ‘il divin codino’ (the divine ponytail).
In 1994, Italian football was at its peak. The USA were hosts of the 15th FIFA World Cup and Roberto Baggio was Italy’s talisman. Having been crowned the 1993 Ballon d'or winner, he was having a fantastic tournament. His goals and guile guided Italy to the final, scoring the winner in all three of the knock out stages, with five goals in total. Italy would face Brazil at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
After extra time, the final was goalless. The drama, the excitement, the pressure and the cruelty of the penalty shootout would decide the winners. It fell to Baggio to take Italy’s 5th penalty, which could have tied the score, but the ball flew high above the crossbar. Brazil were champions.
Whilst Brazil rejoiced, Baggio stood with his hand on his hips, staring alone at the empty goal, in what would be remembered as one of the most enduring images of World Cup heartache.
Despite two other Italians missing their spot kicks, including legendary defender Franco Baresi, Baggio was ultimately left shouldering the blame. It’s a true sign of Baggio’s place amongst the greats, and Italy’s reliance on him, that only he was left to carry the burden of defeat.
His glittering career is often defined by this single penalty miss. Many disgruntled Italian fans actually claimed that if he had prayed to the Lord (Jesus) like Brazil, instead of the Buddha, he would probably have scored the goal and Italy would have been world champions.
It’s cruel that Italy’s best ever player is remembered for the moment his gift abandoned him, but in football, history does remember the losers. The ‘Divine Ponytail’ was a player to rank among the greats. He won two Scudetti, a UEFA Cup, a Ballon d’Or and a World Player of the Year award. He scored 204 goals in 452 Serie A appearances, and 27 in 56 internationals. All that glory should not be overshadowed by a single kick, as few players will be remembered as fondly as Roberto Baggio.
'Penalties are only missed by those with the courage to take them.' Roberto Baggio
'It was the toughest moment of my career. Before I left for the finals, my Buddhist spiritual master told me that I would be confronted with a lot of problems and that everything would be decided at the very last minute. At the time I didn't realise his prediction would be so accurate.'