Roberto Baggio, perhaps the greatest Italian number 10 of all-time, celebrated his 47th birthday this week, and well-wishes poured in from all over the globe as many remembered his genius on the pitch, and humility off it.
Recently, two of the most prominent Italian coaches of today paid tribute to the influence il Divin Codino had on them during different stages of their careers, with one choosing to remember a slightly more positive experience than the other.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte was a team-mate of Baggio’s at the Turin giant’s during the ’90s, and playing alongside the team’s mercurial playmaker (as well as another, Zinedine Zidane, later on) taught the combative former midfielder some valuable future coaching lessons for his team today.
“I did not have Zinedine Zidane or Roberto Baggio’s talent as a player, and I have played with both,” started Conte.
“That even when they were circled they could try to break through or create interesting situations with the ball.
“When I was a player, my efforts and work-rate, my willingness to sacrifice fitness and humility made up for my lack of pure talent but sometimes, if I didn’t find a teammate next to me, I might lose the ball.
“As a manager, my first thought from day one was that I wanted to find solutions for my players when the ball reached them, as I could not.”
While Conte’s experience helped him shape his future team into a well-rounded machine, less dependent on any one individual, current Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti spoke of his big Roberto Baggio regret.
The former Juventus, AC Milan and Chelsea coach recently spoke to the Financial Times in a far-reaching interview, in which he sweetly dubbed football “the most important of the less important things in the world.”
A disciple of Arrigo Sacchi’s during his successful time as a player with AC Milan, Ancelotti admits his early attachment to the 4-4-2 system made him too inflexible initially as a coach, and he learned a valuable lesson when he turned down the chance to sign Baggio for Parma.
With the club already agreeing a deal to sign the fantasista from AC Milan, Ancelotti come to regret his decision to pull the plug on the transfer, all due to his tactical outlook at the time:
“I said, ‘No, you have to play striker.’ Baggio went to another club. That year Baggio scored 22 goals – for Bologna! I lost 22 goals! Big mistake.”
Ancelotti, who also went on to let another playmaker, Gianfranco Zola, leave the club, continued:
“Looking back on it now, I was crazy. How can you give up on someone like Baggio? I was young and didn’t have the courage to throw myself into something that I didn’t know well enough. I [just] knew everything about the 4-4-2.”