Roberto Baggio was born in Caldogna, a small town near Vicenza, Italy on February 18, 1967. He was the sixth of eight brothers. At 15 he began playing for Vicenza’s junior team in one of Italy’s minor leagues. After scoring 13 goals in 36 games he was recognized as a superstar in the making. Florence’s team Fiorentina acquired him in the summer of 1985. In 1990, then barely 20, Baggio was acquired by Juventus of Turin for 15 billion Italian lire. Italian soccer couldn’t get enough of its new star, a relatively small player with supple legs and long pony-tailed hair. Though a soccer genius, Baggio was hard to coach. He played for five teams - Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan, Bologna, Inter and Brescia - always wearing the number 10 jersey. A midfield wizard who had his share of ups and downs, Baggio repeatedly defied expectations. Whenever critics branded him over-the-hill he would inevitably display a fresh burst of the talent that had taken him to the top.
His haircut and divine ball-handling skills produced the nickname “Divin Codino,” Italian for “Divine Ponytail”.His free kicks were artful brushstrokes, leading Juventus’s owner Gianni Agnelli to nickname him “Michelangelo”. Baggio became the symbol of Italian soccer at home and abroad. In 1993, he won FIFA’s Golden Ball as the world’s best player. He played 56 games for the national team, scoring 27 goals. He also competed in 3 World Cup championships. His first World Cup showing was in Italy in 1990. After being benched during the first two games, he was subbed into a game against Czechoslovakia. He scored unassisted in the 78th minute after dribbling from midfield. Rome’s Olympic Stadium erupted. At the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Baggio scored four goals to lead Italy into the finals against Brazil. The game was played in the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. It ended 0-0 after extra time and the two teams went to penalty kicks. Baggio kicked high and Brazil won the World Cup title.
On May 16, 2004 at Milan’s San Siro Stadium, Baggio played his last game before retiring, receiving a long standing ovation as he left the field for the last time.
Few players in Italian history were as beloved as Baggio, in part because of his impulsiveness. On April 6, 1991, playing against Fiorentina for the first time since the club’s historical rival Juventus had acquired him, Baggio refused to kick a penalty. Juventus lost, 1-0. In January 2002 Vittorio Mero, Baggio’s teammate at Brescia, was killed in a car accident on the eve of Brescia’s Italian Cup semifinal match against Parma. The news reached the players just seconds before the game was scheduled to start. Baggio told his team to return to the locker-room and the game was suspended. People were also intrigued with Baggio’s choice to become a Buddhist. He remains a legendary figure in the Far East. After retiring from soccer, Baggio has withdrawn from the public eye. He turned to hunting and agriculture. Together with his wife and childhood sweetheart Andreina, Baggio has concentrated his energies on his farming venture in Argentina.