Roberto Baggio is Number 9 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballer of All Time Series

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Roberto Baggio? 

'That ponytail/mullet thing he had.' 

Ok, that's fair enough - it was a strange combo, but he nearly pulled it off so credit where it's nearly due. 

Let me rephrase the question: what's the first footballing moment that comes to your mind when you think of Roberto Baggio? 

'The World Cup final penalty miss.'

That's fair enough too because, well, that's pretty much everyone's answer, isn't it? 

For the majority of football fans, the abiding memory of Roberto Baggio is the image below.

Roberto Baggio,Taffarel

Il Divin Codino wearing the nicest Italy kit ever (no arguments, it is) and the coolest football boots ever (yes they are Diadora boots and no, no arguments over this either), with his hands on his hips, dejectedly looking down at the penalty spot from which he had ballooned the ball over the crossbar to hand Brazil their fourth FIFA World Cup. 

For the majority of football fans, that image is all Baggio will ever be.

All Roberto Baggio will ever be is the Italian who 'bottled' the 1994 World Cup final. 

And that is exactly why when you spotted that I'd ranked this 'bottler' as the ninth greatest footballer of all time, you were somewhat shocked. You may have sent me a few messages on Twitter saying 'U r An IdOt AnD u No NoFiN aBoUt FoOtBaLL". You may have even sent me a 10 minute voicemail complaining about his placement in the top ten (shoutout to a 90min co-worker). 

But the unbridled rage you felt when you realised that Baggio was ranked higher than Cristiano Ronaldo in ​90min's 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time - six places higher at that - isn't really my fault, is it? 

In fact, it's actually your fault. 

'How's it my fault?!'

It just is! Hang your head in shame!

Because what you are doing (along with hanging your head in shame) by remembering that singular image of Baggio as a broken man who had by his own admission "Failed. Period", is misremembering one of the most naturally gifted, most creative, most downright exceptional footballers in the history of mankind. 

In many ways, you're making Baggio the reverse Jimmy Glass.

'Who even is Jimmy Glass?'

I'm glad you asked. Jimmy Glass was an emergency-loaned, fourth tier, 55555th-rate goalkeeper who is remembered as a 'hero' for scoring a goal to keep Carlisle United in the English league system. 

'He's rightfully remembered as a hero then?'

Well...yes...but because of doing literally one good thing during his career, he's remembered much more fondly as a footballer than his actual footballing ability, or career as a whole, should have permitted. 

'And Baggio is the complete opposite...?'

Yes, exactly. 

Roberto Baggio of Brescia

Because Roberto Baggio wasn't just 'that guy who missed a penalty this one time'. 

Roberto Baggio wasn't just that man whose daemon of genius (​more on that here) had eluded him at the crucial moment. 

The Roberto Baggio that skied a penalty kick in the Rose Bowl on 17th July 1994 wasn't the real Roberto Baggio. 

'Was it a clone? Or a doppelgänger? Is this like a Paul McCartney being replaced by a doppelgänger in 1969 type deal?'

No, no, no, not at all. 


Paul McCartney

This is more of a: the Roberto Baggio who missed that penalty in the World Cup final wasn't the man that Italian football fans watched for the other 25-odd year career type deal. 

See, what happened was on 17 July 1994 out of character. 

A schism, if you will. 

Soooo it wasn't the 'real Roberto Baggio'. 

Do you follow? 

'Yeah...I think so...'


To find you real Roberto Baggio, you have to go back to four days prior to the day that image of a sullen Italian number 10 was engrained in your memory. You have to go back 13th July 1994, and to a packed out Giants Stadium in East Rutherford to watch Italy's World Cup semi-final meeting with Bulgaria - who, as odd as it seems now, were actually really good back then. 

Roberto Baggio of Italy

The Baggio on show on that particular day, was the Baggio that calcio fans bore witness to for the best past of 25 years - Rose Bowl schism aside, of course. 

On that day Baggio was, well, Baggio. 

The best footballer of his generation. 

The greatest Italian footballer of all time.

'A bottler'.


Honestly, get a grip.

Against a Hristo Stoichkov-led (more on how good Stoichkov was ​here) Bulgaria side who were fresh off the back of knocking Germany out of the competition, II Divin Codino proved to be what he usually was for Italy...or Juventus...or Fiorentina...or Bologna...or Brescia...less so the Milan clubs but that's by the by...he was a match winner. 

In this particular World Cup semi final, he won the match by scoring two outstanding goals. 

Roberto Baggio,Trifon Ivanov,Borislav Mihaylov

The first of those goals came in the 21st minute when the number 10, standing with his back to Zlatko Yankov closer to the left touchline than the goal line, held off the towering Bulgarian defender and allowed a Roberto Donadoni throw-in to run across his body in-field before quickly evading the tight marking of Yankov to follow it. After bringing the ball under his control, Baggio proceeded to meander along the edge of the box, slipping past Petar Hubchev with the slightest manipulation of the ball, before curling a beautiful side-footed effort past the hapless Borislav Mikhailov and into the bottom corner. 

It was the perfect exemplification of Baggio's ability to conjure something spectacular from what many footballers would perceive to be absolutely nothing. 

If Donadoni thrown the ball to any of the other players - including Stoichkov - on that pitch beside that left touchline with a defender breathing down their neck, they all would've simply caressed the ball back to whence it came from. 

But Baggio didn't. Baggio saw an opening, and exploited it. 

"When other players run, he stands still. When other players do the predictable, he creates. When other players are stressed, he keeps his cool." (Jorge Valdano)

Four minutes later he was at it again. 

This time he spotted space in behind the Bulgarian defence to ruthlessly volley a chipped Demetrio Albertini pass into the left corner of Mikhailov's goal. 

'Can I interject here?'


'That game sounds great and all; fair play to him for making the impossible possible or whatever. But it is just one game, so you're doing exactly what everyone else is doing: you're trying to define that bottler Baggio by one game. The only difference is that it's a different game' 

But this isn't 'just one game'.

For while that image of a sullen man bemoaning a 'bottling' is an anomaly in Baggio's career, his star-turn against Bulgaria isn't. 

Leading his team to victory wasn't an uncommon thing for Il Divin Codino.

He did it throughout that summer in the USA - scoring five of Italy's six knockout round goals.

He did it in 1993 when he scored two goals in Juventus' UEFA Cup final triumph over Borussia Dortmund. 

He did it at Bologna in 1997/98 when he scored 22 goals to guide them to European football for first time in a very, very, very long time. 

Put simply, throughout his two and half decade career, he did it. 

Baggio won countless individual and team honours - including the Ballon d'Or in 1993 - and, bar that one slip up, was consistently one of the best players in the world during that time period. 

"When you watch Baggio play, you hear children. Baggio is the impossible made possible, a snowfall from an open door in the sky." Lucio Dalla

For the best part of 25 years, Roberto Baggio conjured extraordinary things on football pitches across the length and breadth of Italy week in, week out. He was a footballer with such creative ingenuity, one who played the game so beautifully, that 'the angels sang in his legs' (Aldo Agroppi).

And maybe, just maybe, that's worth remembering too. 

90min's 'Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' can be found here.

Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi

Number 44: Paul Breitner

Number 43: George Weah

Number 42: Kaka

Number 41: Lev Yashin

Number 40: Gunnar Nordahl

Number 39: Kevin Keegan

Number 38: Hristo Stoichkov

Number 37: Gianluigi Buffon

Number 36: Johan Neeskens

Number 35: Xavi Hernandez

Number 34: Luis Suarez

Number 33: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Number 32: Andres Iniesta

Number 31: Rivelino

Number 30: Bobby Moore

Number 29: Socrates

Number 28: Sandor Kocsis

Number 27: Lothar Matthaus

Number 26: Ronaldinho

Number 25: Ruud Gullit

Number 24: Bobby Charlton

Number 23: Giuseppe Meazza

Number 22: Raymond Kopa

Number 21: Romario

Number 20: Eusebio

Number 19: Marco van Basten

Number 18: George Best

Number 17: Zico

Number 16: Franco Baresi

Number 15: Cristiano Ronaldo

Number 14: Ferenc Puskas

Number 13: Paolo Maldini

Number 12: Gerd Müller

Number 11: Mané Garrincha

Number 10: ​Alfredo Di Stefano