Roberto Baggio

born February 18, 1967, Roberto Baggio is a legendary Italian former footballer, among the best players in the world throughout the 1990s. In 1993 he won both the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award, and is still remembered as one of the most beloved and technically gifted players in the world.

Club career: Born in Caldogno, near Vicenza, Baggio started his career with Vicenza in Serie C1 in 1981. Fiorentina snapped him up in 1985, and during his years there, he rose to cult status among the team's fans.

He was sold to Juventus amid large fan outcry in 1990 for 25 billion Italian lira ($19 million), the world record transfer for a football player at the time. Baggio replied to his fans saying: "I was compelled to accept the transfer".

In 1993 he won his lone European club trophy, helping Juventus to the UEFA Cup. His performance earned him the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year. So far, he has been the only Italian to win Ballon d' Or since Paolo Rossi did so in 1982.

Baggio won his first scudetto with Juventus in 1995. This was the first of many league titles to come for Juventus in the 1990s. However, Baggio was not to get a share of these. After strong pressure from A.C. Milan chairman Silvio Berlusconi, he was sold to the Milanese club. He helped the club win the Serie A title, becoming the first player to win the scudetto in consecutive years with different teams. [citation needed]

In 1997, when he was thought to be on the downside, Baggio transferred to Bologna in order to resuscitate his career, and after scoring a personal best 22 goals that year, was included in Italy's starting eleven for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in place of the younger and favored Alessandro Del Piero.

International career Baggio played 16 World Cup finals games for Italy. Ireland is the only team against which Baggio played more than once in his 16 games of FIFA World Cup play. In every World Cup finals Baggio played in, Italy was eliminated after 120 minutes of play on the penalty shootout.

1990 World Cup Baggio played in his first World Cup, in 1990, and although he was used most often as a substitute in the tournament, he was still able to display his quality, scoring twice including the "goal of the tournament" against Czechoslovakia. Baggio is also much remembered for his class; although regularily designated the penalty shooter for his team, he stepped aside when Italy was awarded one in the third place match, allowing teammate Salvatore Schillaci to score and capture the Golden Boot.

1994 World Cup Baggio was the cornerstone of the Italian team during the 1994 FIFA World Cup, leading them to the final after a disappointing start. He scored five goals, all in the knockout phase: two in the Round of 16 to beat Nigeria (with a late equalizer and one in extra time), one in the quarter-finals to top Spain (the game winner with 3 minutes remaining) and two to beat Bulgaria in the semifinals. Baggio was not fully fit for the final against Brazil, which ended 0-0 after extra time; he took Italy's last penalty in the resulting shoot-out, but his kick went over the cross-bar and the Brazilians won the title. Two other Italians, Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro, had already missed penalties; had Baggio scored, Brazil would have still had a penalty to win the Cup nevertheless.

Baggio finished tied for second in the tournament in goals scored and was named one of the top three players.

1998 World Cup Baggio was the only Italian attacker to play for 90 minutes in the opening match, a 2-2 draw against Chile.

The first goal was scored by Christian Vieri on an assist by Baggio. Chile took the lead 2-1, and Baggio would later make a good pass to Filippo Inzaghi but the Chilean keeper made an excellent save to keep the score 2-1. That was only the third time a team took the lead over Italy in a World Cup throughout the 1990s. Towards the end of the game a Baggio ball would touch a Chilean defender's hand, resulting in a penalty scored by Baggio which made the score 2-2. With this goal, he became the first Italian player to score in three World Cups. The Italian fans had already forgiven Baggio for his 1994 penalty miss, as it was well accepted that he was the main reason the Italian side got so far in the tournament to begin with.

He scored two goals in the tournament; he also scored the winning goal against Austria as Italy topped their group.

On the quarterfinals match against France, Baggio would come on as a substitute in the second half. Italy had only one shot in the entire match, from none other than Baggio; however, the score remained 0-0 and the match went to a penalty shootout.

Baggio scored in the penalty shootout but Italy lost to the eventual champions France. He was one of Italy's main contributors of that tournament, the other being Christian Vieri in a team full of talent and also known for playing defensive football.

Later career After the World Cup, Baggio signed with Internazionale. This proved to be an unfortunate move, as the then coach Marcello Lippi did not favour Baggio and hardly played him.This caused Baggio to lose his place in the national team, but whenever he could get onto the field, he never left fans disappointed. In his autobiography, Baggio later declared that Lippi had effectively dumped him after Baggio had refused to point out which Inter's players had expressed negative opinions about the coach.

After two years with Inter, in order to be called up for 2002 World Cup, he transferred to previously unfashionable Brescia. Despite a severe injury, he miraculously recovered before the end of the season. However, Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni did not take Baggio to Korea and Japan. Fans and pundits criticized the omission of Baggio and Italy was eliminated before reaching the quarter-finals, failing to reach expectations.

Baggio continued playing at Brescia until his retirement in 2004. Baggio ended his career with 205 goals in Serie A, making him the fifth highest scorer of all time behind Silvio Piola, Gunnar Nordahl, Giuseppe Meazza and Jos Altafini.

Baggio totalled 56 caps and 27 goals for the national team, fourth all time. He is the only Italian player ever to score in three World Cups, with a total of 9 career World Cup goals which puts him even with Christian Vieri and Paolo Rossi as Italy's top World Cup scorers. He was given a sendoff match on April 28, 2004 against Spain. His number 10 jersey was retired by Brescia Calcio.

Baggio was invited to play for the European XI at the Football for Hope Indian Ocean tsunami relief benefit on February 15, 2005 at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, but he declined the invitation.

Baggio wrote an autobiography titled Una Porta nel Cielo ("A Goal in the Sky"). In it, he told of many rifts with managers.

Baggio is known as Il Divin Codino (The Divine Ponytail), for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career. He is a devout Soka Gakkai Buddhist, a rarity for an Italian. He credits much of his success to encouragement from his mentor, Daisaku Ikeda.