Italy legend Roberto Baggio admits he wanted to play for Boca Juniors as a footballer and still feels betrayed by Giovanni Trappatoni’s snub at the 2002 World Cup.
Il Divin Codino doesn’t often give interviews but has now spoken to Esquire Italia about his career and life after retirement.
“I’ve always had the desire to play football. I never told myself: ‘You are strong’, but I’ve always wanted to be as such,” he said.
It’s been almost 20 years since Baggio played his last game in Serie A.
“These years flew away, in a moment,” he admitted.
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad. Now I love green, and nature and I love to stay outside.”
Baggio was hit by several injuries during his career and had to deal with a chronic knee problem.
“I don’t want to act as a victim, but I always suffered to play football,” he said.
“I didn’t know how long I’d last and I had to deal with it. I had this problem with my knee that tormented me daily and I had to protect it. I would do extra work, doing 500-600 exercises on one leg. Once a doctor told me that I had to treat my knee as an air chamber and fill it with exercises because there was a hole that could not be fixed.”
Baggio even thought about quitting football at the beginning of his playing career.
“I was 18, in Florence. They would tell me: ‘Come on, 15 more days and you’ll train with the team again.’ When I got there, they repeated: ‘Come on, two more weeks.’ Every time, at night, I decided to quit, but then in the morning, I woke up again to do exercises.”
Baggio played four World Cups in his career, Italia 90, USA 94 and France 98. His penalty miss in the 1994 Final against Brazil in Pasadena is one of the most iconic images in the history of the game. The ex-striker still scored five of Italy’s six goals during the tournament but believes he could have done more in the USA.
“Aside from goals, I didn’t play well. At Italia ’90, I was much more involved in the play,” he claimed.
“I have a painful memory of America. I was the Ballon d’Or winner, there were incredible expectations for me and the team. The passion of Italian Americans was extraordinary. Then unbearable heat came and we lost to Ireland. The Azzurri jersey always had a special weight for me, it was like playing carrying a house on my back.”
Baggio could have played four World Cups, but Trapattoni didn’t include him in the team for the 2002 edition played in South Korea and Japan. The 56-year-old is still furious with Trap.
“That was a shameful thing that for a thousand reasons I will hardly forget,” he said.
“I think I should have gone even with just one leg, for what I had represented. It would have been my fourth World Cup, the story had to finish like that. It was a betrayal. Everyone in Japan would have supported us.
“I returned from the injury for the last three Serie A games and I was super fit. I scored three goals. Overall, 11 goals in 11 games that season. Most importantly, there was a month before the beginning of the World Cup. He could have called me and assess my form.”
What would he do to change the status of Italian football?
“It’s always easy to speak from the outside. However, if I were managing a football team, I would spend as little as possible on transfers and invest in the academy and training facilities which are really poor.”
Baggio was then asked which club he would have liked to play for and which teams he support.
“Boca is an experience I would have loved to do,” he admitted.
“When I went to Qatar [Former Argentina President Mauricio] Macrì asked me why I didn’t join them. Unfortunately, it was because of my knee. It’s amazing over there. In 1994 I bought a plot of land in Argentina. I didn’t know local football well. Once, I was watching a game on TV which showed celebrating fans during a match. I thought their team were winning, but they told me: ‘Look, they are the ones losing 3-0.”
“Teams I support? I am not a great football fan, because I support every team I played for, which are many.”
Lastly, he was asked to name his favourite football shirt picking from the ones swapped with his opponents.
“I can’t pick one. I played against Van Basten, Maldini, Baresi, Ronaldo, Maradona. I think I have 500 shirts downstairs.”