Oh, those good old days when one could see Roberto Baggio and Diego Maradona facing each other in the Serie A: Arguably one of the finest fantasista ever produced by the Belpaese football machine versus the almost-universally recognized best player of all time, depending on what school of thought you follow.
The two giants had the chance to battle for four seasons, from 1987 to 1991, during which the future Divin Codino wore the jerseys of Fiorentina and Juventus, while Diego remained loyal to his Neapolitan faith until his Serie A experience abruptly came to an end as he tested positive to cocaine in March 1991.
When the two used to meet, the game could never be an ordinary one: It was September 17, 1989, indeed, when a young Baggio took the luxury of scoring a sensational goal which clearly resembled Maradona’s Gol del Siglo at the World Cup 1986. He did so in a Napoli-Fiorentina game as Dieguito watched from the bench, kept at bay by his trainer Alberto Bigon to help him recover from an injury.
Now, for those two or three of you who may not know what El Gol del Siglo is, let it suffice to say that Diego Maradona’s goal in a World Cup 1986 Quarter Final match against England regularly grabs the top spot in any all-time goal parade ever compiled. Imagine El Pibe de Oro receiving the ball around the midfield line and literally depositing it into the opposition net after having dribbled half of the British squad, goalkeeper included, like they were traffic poles. You get the idea.
Well, Roberto Baggio did something similar, even if on a smaller scale, as Maradona himself was looking at him from the dugout.
When he faced Napoli in the 1989-90 season, he was a 22-year-old Fiorentina striker with a horrific injury already on his back. He had the gentle smile of a kind boy and loads of football talent, of course. But, moreover, he had an unshakeable grit which had helped him coming back to the pitch after literally shattering both the anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus of his right knee early in his career.
Doctors kept patting him on the back and say “Boy, I’m afraid you are not going to play anymore.” Baggio, however, kept believing, and so did Fiorentina, which patiently waited for their golden boy’s full recovery.
When he finally returned to play, along came the days of the Artemio Franchi Stadium singing Roberto Baggio facci un goal (“Roberto Baggio score one for us”) on the notes of When the Saints Go Marching In. Baggio – needless to say – used to fully meet their expectations, tallying an impressive 24 goals in the 1988-89 season and 19 in the following one, where he contributed to bring the Viola to a UEFA Cup Final which they lost to arch-rival Juventus (ouch!)
On that day, just to live up to his name, he scored two: The first goal came in the 22nd minute as he converted a penalty that he had gained himself. Fiorentina’s number 10 was pushed down in the box by Alessandro Renica after dribbling him and made no mistake from the spot.
The best was yet to come, however. Nine minutes later, he went above and beyond to realize a goal that he himself considers the fifth-best in his personal hall of fame. The fifth. Yes, Roberto Baggio believes he scored at least four goals better than this one…
Those goals will make for some more good stories, but to stick to today’s topic, in the 31st minute of that Napoli-Fiorentina game, Baggio took the ball in his defensive third, dribbled again Alessandro Renica past the midfield line despite the Neapolitan trying to cut him down with the most classical fallo tattico, then avoided a desperate slide tackle by Massimo Crippa. As he entered Napoli’s area, he found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Giuliano Giuliani.
At that point, whipping the ball in the net or chipping it past the goalie looked like the best options, and Baggio indeed had enough space to do both. Instead, he came up with a feint, removing the ball from Giuliani’s sight with the sole (!) of his right foot, then pushing it forward with his left.
As poor Giuliani found himself sitting with his ass on the ground, Fiorentina’s jewel completed his masterpiece by calmly depositing the ball into the untended goal to make it 2-0 for his side.
Now, we would love the recount that, after scoring such an amazing goal, Baggio turned to Maradona, stared at him with a challenging look and invited him to come to play. That would have made for a great movie scene. But no, that’s not what happened.
What did happen, however, was that, at half time, Diego Maradona folded the newspaper he was reading, stood up, yawned, and made his entrance on the pitch. At full time, the scorecard read 3-2 in favor of Napoli, despite El Pibe de Oro even missing a penalty.
Roberto Baggio’s love-story with Fiorentina would last until the following summer when the future Divin Codino shocked Florence with a controversial move to Juventus. Still, he did remain Roberto Baggio, a player whose talent was only equaled by his integrity. Probably the only one in the history of modern football who could refuse to take a penalty against his former club.
It happened the following season when he came back at the Artemio Franchi as a rival, not as an idol. Juventus were awarded a penalty and the designated taker was him. Baggio simply couldn’t do that and rejected the task. But this is a different story.
September 17, 1989 – Serie A 1989-90 Round 5
SCORERS: 22′ Baggio (F, pen.), 31′ Baggio (F), 61′ Pioli (F, o.g.), 76′ Careca (N), 87′ Corradini (N)
|NAPOLI: Giuliani, Ferrara, Corradini, Crippa, Alemao, Renica (62′ Francini), Fusi, De Napoli, Careca, Mauro (46′ Maradona), Carnevale (Di Fusco, Tarantino, Zola) Coach: Bigon
|FIORENTINA: Landucci, Pioli, Volpecina, Dell’Oglio, Pin, Battistini, Di Chiara (67′ Faccenda), Dunga (73′ Daniel), Dertycia, Baggio, Buso (Pellicanó, Bosco, Zironelli) Coach: Giorgi|
REFEREE: Mr. Baldas from Trieste
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Carnevale (N), Pioli, Dell’Oglio, Di Chiara, Faccenda, Daniel (F)