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star struck

Kicking Back
Italian soccer legend Roberto Baggio talks about life after retirement
By Kevin Buckland

Kaori Suzuki

July 17, 1994. Pasadena, Calif.: Italy’s 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 immense—it’s 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. Italy’s final penalty taker is its last hope for World Cup glory. The Italian chooses his target carefully: Brazil’s goalkeeper is known to be a diver so he aims for the center, about halfway up. He runs, makes contact—and 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, he’s happy, healthy and—albeit a bit grayer—sporting the trademark hairstyle that earned him the nickname Il Divino Codino: the Divine Ponytail.

“It’s 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 the night.”

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 I’m out of the soccer world, I’m 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 don’t rule out a return to soccer in some other capacity in the future,” he said. “I’ve already received several offers, and when the time is right, I’ll make what I consider to be the best choice.”

The World Cup will take place in Germany next year, and Baggio is confident about Italy’s chances, even against his old nemesis. “We have some good young players in Italy. I think we’ll 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, Japan’s 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 wasn’t possible before.”

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.”

 

Q&A

Chris Hogg
A TV reporter says sayonara, but he hopes not for long

Nina Uchida

It was a busy summer for Tokyo-based journalists, among them the BBC’s temporary man in Japan, 34-year-old Chris Hogg.

Where are you from?
Brighton, on the south coast of England, and more recently Hong Kong.

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 I’ve 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 privatization—it 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?
I’ve tried and I have a very patient teacher who no doubt will have to go and lie down in a dark room when I’ve gone. I’m not a very good student.

Where are you going next?
I’m 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 I’m lucky, back here next year.

What are you reading this week?
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, by John Dower. I can’t put it down.

Watching?
Last night I saw a classic Ealing comedy, Passport to Pimlico.

Where is your dream posting?
Anywhere warm and interesting. I’m a sad hack—if I’m not working I get bored. But Tokyo’s a hard one to beat. AV

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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