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How Baggio Brought Juventus and Fiorentina to War

April 15, 2011 By Hasan Saiyid
Juventus and Fiorentina battle on Sunday in a game that evokes mutual loathing characteristic of a derby.
For many, the most abiding legacy of Roberto Baggio is his missed penalty against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup Final. Stepping up to the spot on that day, Baggio already looked despondent, as if he knew the worst was to come. Up against the onerous expectation of the Italian public and the unnerving Pasadena heat, Baggio lost his nerve. After skying the penalty, he stood, head bowed, with frenzied Brazilian celebrations settling in all around him.

That portrait of vastly differing emotions has managed to make it into most illustrated depictions of Baggio's career. It did not matter that Baggio had single-handedly taken Italy to the Final, rescuing them from the brink of a potentially embarrassing defeat against Nigeria in the round of sixteen, before scoring the winning goals against Spain and Bulgaria in the quarter and semi-finals. What mattered is Baggio had buckled when it mattered most.

For many who live in Florence, perhaps only one part of Baggio's legacy overshadows memories of that fated Final: his transfer to Juventus in 1990. For years before his acrimonious departure to Juventus, Baggio had graced Fiorentina with velvet touches, scoring some of the most beautiful goals in the history of football. Though he appeared demure off the pitch, Baggio expressed himself unreservedly on it. For those who did not follow Serie A in the 1980s and 1990s--in other words those who deserve our deepest sympathy--Baggio was born in the 1990 World Cup, during which he scored the goal of the tournament, slicing and gliding past a hapless Czechoslovakian team. However, Baggio had scored like that for Fiorentina before the World Cup, endearing himself to the Viola faithful for years despite serious injuries at the beginning of his stint with the club.

It is, then, not surprising that when it was rumoured that Baggio was being sold to Juventus in 1990, residents of Florence rioted in the streets. Fiorentina fans particularly despised Juventus for how they 'stole' the Scudetto from them in 1982, after a series of controversial decisions.

Much to their fury, the rumours were all true, but Baggio always had a soft spot for Fiorentia despite leaving for Juventus, and during a league game between the two the following season, he refused to take a penalty and kissed a Fiorentina scarf that had been thrown on the field.

Despite having no defining territorial dispute like city derbies, the rivalry between Juventus and Fiorentina draws much of its animosity from that transfer, which, incidentally, cost somewhere between 10 and 12 million euros, a world record fee at the time.

Baggio's career has been a story of injuries, arguments with coaches, and near misses, but he has also managed to intensify a rivalry between two clubs. Il Divin Codino ('The Divine Ponytail'), as he was nicknamed because of his tied-back, long, frizzy hair and his adopted Buddhist faith, polarized debate in the wake of his transfer, but he is almost unanimously loved by the Italian public.

Baggio's popularity in Italy endured wherever he went, and he incredibly played for Vicenza, Fiorentina, Juventus, Milan, Bologna, Inter, and Brescia in his career. Perhaps Juve fans are the only ones who do not remember Baggio fondly, as his scarf-kissing antics irretrievably damaged his relationship with them.

Juventus versus Fiorentina will always have one man in its narrative. It is proof of Baggio's mystique and charisma that he still looms large over one of Italy's most heated rivalries.

If you want to contact Hasan Saiyid, click on the author's name above the article.

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