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.
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).
This man just put BAGGIO over ronaldo....— TheReal_RKX (@TheReal_RKX) May 21, 2019
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! H
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?'
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 d
Soooo it wasn't the 'real Roberto Baggio'.
Do you follow?
'Yeah...I think so...'
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.
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.
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
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 -
"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.
Roberto Baggio poses with his Ballon d'Or, 1993. pic.twitter.com/Ke7YaAibXt— 90s Football (@90sfootball) January 21, 2020
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' (
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