Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Ever wondered what happened to Roberto Baggio?
After playing his final professional game for Brescia against AC Milan at the San Siro on the last day of the 2003-04 season, the Divine Ponytail was gone: no interviews, no television punditry, no returning as a coach.
Thankfully, he hasn’t become a complete recluse, even if he seems to be a very contented early middle-aged family man. He is, after all, a Buddhist - albeit one who likes to shoot small animals to pass the time. La Gazzetta Dello Sport newspaper got wind of the great man’s appearance at a Buddhist gathering in Milan and landed a rare interview. Now 41 and greying very nicely, 'Roby' spends most of his time either pottering in his garden, down on the farm in Argentina on hunting trips or meditating.
Like all great players, Roby Baggio never seemed rushed
“I do miss playing, of course. The mind was willing but the body couldn’t go on,” he revealed. “I go out running, but only in a straight line because my knees can't take the twisting and turning. That stage of my life is over. I spent so many years travelling that it’s great to spend time with my family. This is their time now.”
He met his wife Andreina when they were 15 and they now have two teenage daughters and a three-year-old son. It’s nurturing a new generation that would incite the former World Player of the Year back to the game.
“I would need a club that believed in me. To allow me to guide and protect young players. One wrong word can break a career and one good word can make one.”
Baggio certainly had plenty of run-ins with coaches down through the years, from 1994 World Cup boss Arrigo Sacchi to Marcello Lippi at Inter. A common thread runs through each failed relationship.
"They all wanted to be the centre of attention,” he claimed. “I had a lot of people on my side and they never liked that. Sacchi had plenty of good tactical ideas but he just wanted to be the main man all the time. Life turned out well for Lippi but he shouldn’t even have been at the World Cup. Didn’t he resign beforehand? Next thing he’s a world champion...”
Baggio faces Argentina, a country whose players he admires
The former Juventus star does have fond memories of his old club – but his heart seems more in South America now.
“It’s where they are still closer to the true authentic spirit of the game," he explains. "That’s why I like Leo Messi as a player, although Crisitiano Ronaldo and Kakà are doing exciting things.” As for the pace of the game, “Everything is faster and more difficult. It’s an evolution, you can't stop it. But of course you shouldn’t mortify a player because he performs a backheel pass. When I played, a goal had to be accompanied by some piece of skill, a dribble, some invention - otherwise I didn’t enjoy it.”
Roberto Baggio: always a class act and greatly missed.
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