Italian soccer legend Roberto Baggio talks about
life after retirement
By Kevin Buckland
July 17, 1994. Pasadena, Calif.: Italys ace striker
is exhausted but lucid as he places the ball on the penalty
spot and takes a few measured steps back. The pressure is
immenseits the World Cup final and Italy and Brazil
have played to a goalless draw; the winner will be decided
in a penalty shootout. Italy has already missed two and Brazil
one. Italys final penalty taker is its last hope for
World Cup glory. The Italian chooses his target carefully:
Brazils goalkeeper is known to be a diver so he aims
for the center, about halfway up. He runs, makes contactand
the shot blazes over the crossbar.
Despite a glittering career spanning 23 years and filled with
breathtaking goals, Roberto Baggio will always remembered
for that one miss.
Eleven years later, 38-year-old Baggio sat at a table in the
Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, smiling and relaxed,
ready to answer questions. One year into his retirement from
professional soccer, hes happy, healthy andalbeit
a bit grayersporting the trademark hairstyle that earned
him the nickname Il Divino Codino: the Divine Ponytail.
Its a personal choice. I like long hair,
he said when quizzed about his locks, but in the past
some teammates have tried to cut my hair in the middle of
Baggio was in Tokyo as an ambassador for the Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), the UN body that fights hunger, promoting
a set of postage stamps commemorating his career, part of
the proceeds of which will benefit the FAO. Now Im
out of the soccer world, Im doing other things I believe
are important, he said.
Despite interest from soccer clubs, including some in Japan,
Baggio is adamant that his playing days are over. I
consider my career closed, but I dont rule out a return
to soccer in some other capacity in the future, he said.
Ive already received several offers, and when
the time is right, Ill make what I consider to be the
The World Cup will take place in Germany next year, and Baggio
is confident about Italys chances, even against his
old nemesis. We have some good young players in Italy.
I think well do well, he said. Brazil is
the favorite. They have shown great strength, especially in
the Confederations Cup. They have a wealth of talented players
and can adapt formations easily.
Baggio is a devout Buddhist and long-time member of Soka Gakkai,
Japans largest Buddhist association with more than 12
million devotees worldwide. In Buddhism I found the
strength to get through difficult moments in my life,
he said. I gained a belief in myself that wasnt
With his faith and his new role off the pitch, Baggio hopes
to be able to spread the happiness he has found to others
less fortunate. World peace is the most important thing,
he says about his wishes for the future. If we had it,
it would allow us to think about others, to care about those
in need. Without it, we cannot focus on the other work, like
feeding hungry children.
A TV reporter says sayonara, but he hopes not for long
It was a busy summer for Tokyo-based journalists, among them
the BBCs temporary man in Japan, 34-year-old Chris Hogg.
Where are you from?
Brighton, on the south coast of England, and more recently
Tell us about your summer.
It never stopped: The anniversaries of Hiroshima, Nagasaki
and the end of WWII; postal privatization; a general election;
oh, and a couple of earthquakes. Never a dull moment.
Where were you before?
I was a health correspondent in London before coming to Asia
in the summer of 2003. Since then Ive been a correspondent
in Hong Kong and Taiwan, working in Thailand and mainland
China too. I also survived a stint in Baghdad.
Which story have you enjoyed the most?
Hiroshima. I thought I knew all the arguments about the rights
and wrongs of the bombing, but the testimony of the survivors
we met gave me a completely different perspective.
And the strangest?
Postal privatizationit still gives me a headache. Slot-machine
ATMs were odd. And sumo, when they all took their clothes
off in front of me.
What will be your fondest memory of Tokyo?
The food. No question.
How have you coped with learning Japanese?
Ive tried and I have a very patient teacher who no doubt
will have to go and lie down in a dark room when Ive
gone. Im not a very good student.
Where are you going next?
Im going back to Hong Kong in November. We have the
World Trade Organization talks in December, then the tsunami
anniversary in Phuket. Then, maybe, if Im lucky, back
here next year.
What are you reading this week?
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, by John Dower.
I cant put it down.
Last night I saw a classic Ealing comedy, Passport to Pimlico.
Where is your dream posting?
Anywhere warm and interesting. Im a sad hackif
Im not working I get bored. But Tokyos a hard
one to beat. AV
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