Roberto Baggio made football beautiful. His first touch, vision, ability to create spaces for himself and his teammates were one of the reasons to pick up the remote control and watch Italian football in the 90′s. He was a mix of Leo Messi and Mesut Özil, Andrea Pirlo’s childhood hero and inspiration to millions around the world. He was also one of the last outfield players to carry his national team all the way to the World Cup final. He did it in 1994 and despite missing the crucial, historic penalty in the penalty shoot-out, he was the best and most important player in that tournament.
His story is tragic but inspirational. Unlike Messi or today’s players, he was not protected by the rules and suffered a lot of traumas. His style and lack of protection left him exposed as a victim of violent defenders and midfielders, who clattered him endlessly. One can only imagine how far he would have gone without the constant pain in his knee, without the serial killers who tried to stop him game after game. Would he have been as great as Messi? He could have been.
At the end of his career Roberto Baggio confessed he was in such agony due to knee injuries that he asked his own mother to kill him.
“When I hung up my boots for the last time, it was like being liberated,” he told the Corriere dello Sport. “The physical pain was really torture and accompanied my entire life as a player. In the last few years, it had become more than I could bear…”
“When I was playing for Brescia, I struggled to walk for two days after each game. When I got home, I couldn’t get out of the car, as I had to put one foot down on the ground and haul myself up hanging on to the door. The next Sunday, I would play again. Packed full of painkillers, but I’d play. I gave everything to football. It might seem a paradox, but at that moment when I retired, I felt happy and fully realised. I could not have done more….”.
He started his life as a professional footballer with a bad knee injury and remarkably played in agony for the rest of his career (1984-2004).
“The professors looked at my knee, shook their heads and said it was unlikely I’d ever play football again. I had six operations on my knees, four on the right and two on the left… They put in 220 internal stitches. I was in agony. I even told my mother ‘If you love me, then kill me.’ It was the desperation of a lad who was suffering and saw the dream of a lifetime floating away, having touched it with a fingertip…”
“In the two weeks after the operation, I lost 12kg. I wasn’t eating and I’d just cry all the time, for emotional and physical pain. If I said I never thought about throwing in the towel, I’d be lying. There were some very, very dark moments, but every time I’d react. I told myself I had to go all the way and challenge myself. I wanted to prove I was stronger than my bad luck and this dream was worth more than a knee.”
This might sound familiar to you because one the greatest strikers of the 90′s, Gabriel Batistuta, also wanted someone to take away his pain.
At the end of his career Baggio said that “Football was always my passion. I used to take the ball with me into the bathroom. As a little child, I had a recurring dream that I would play a World Cup Final against Brazil. I am one of those humans fortunate enough to have lived an actual dream”.
He was fortunate enough to live his dream, we were fortunate enough to see him live that dream.
Happy birthday Roberto Baggio!
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