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Does Italy Underutilize Its Star Players?

by Jitin Dhawan
Jan 23, 2014 12:10 PM EST



Roberto Baggio was the star player for Italy in the 1990s. He was a striker and attacking midfielder. In 1993, Baggio was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d'Or.

He played for Italy in 56 matches, scoring 27 goals, and scored twice in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, five times in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and twice again in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He is the only Italian ever to score in three World Cups and holds the record for most goals scored in World Cup tournaments for Italy, along with Paolo Rossi and Christian Vieri.

Baggio began his professional career at native club Vicenza in the 1982 season. Then, he played for Florentina in 1985 until he was bagged by Juventus in 1990 for €10 million (US$13.6 million ) which was a world record transfer at that time and also claimed the No. 10 jersey which is considered auspicious in the soccer fraternity.

After the transfer there were riots on the streets of Florence where 50 people were injured, such was his craze in the people’s minds. During his stint at Juventus he suffered injuries about five times and the coach started showing more interest in emerging player Alessandro Del Piero.

The 1990 World Cup was a bit ordinary for a player like Baggio. He scored twice against Czechoslovakia but it was not a class act as required by a player of his standard. The 1994 World Cup was a dream run for Baggio as Italy started on a slow note, but Baggio found his form and scored five goals during the course of touramnent to take Italy into the World Cup finals against Brazil.

Then came the most upsetting moments in World Cup history when Baggio missed the last penalty in the shootout as his kick went over the crossbar and the Brazilians lifted the World Cup.

He basically kicked the World Cup across the bar, but this is a human error as he was not able to hold his nerves at the appropriate moment. During the 1998 World Cup he was in the squad but played in parts. For example, in the quarter final against France he was brought on as a substitute after half time and was about to score but missed the golden goal by a whisker and France won the match in the penalty shootout inspite of Baggio netting his penalty.

Why a talent like his was wasted just because he missed a penalty in the World Cup? After this his career started to decline as age also catches up and new people come to takeover the No. 10 jersey. During Baggio's peak time another player was groomed and that was Del Piero.

In 2000, he was the world's best-paid football player from salary, bonuses, and advertising revenue. He won six awards in Italy for gentlemanly conduct and the Golden Boot award, which pertains to personality and playing ability.

He played in three FIFA World Cups and four UEFA European Football Championship with the Italian national team. He started his career with the local youth team of San Vendemiano as a goalkeeper and was transferred to Juventus in 1993. On 5 September 2012, Alessandro Del Piero signed a two-year deal with Sydney FC. He will be paid $2 million per season and became the highest-paid footballer to ever play in the A-League.

Del Piero is currently Italy’s fourth all-time leading scorer. He started his World Cup campaign in 1998 and was the heartthrob and played ahead of Baggio. In the final group game against Austria, Del Piero got his first start as Italy won 2–1 to seal a passage into the next round and in the process avoided a clash with Brazil in the knockout stage. In the 2002 World Cup, he scored against Mexico and saved Italy’s exit in the first round but was not able to save Italy from exiting in a controversial match against South Korea. 

Del Piero was part of the winning team in the 2006 and contributed by scoring against Germany in the semi-final but as a substitute and then scored his penalty against France in the final shootout. Italy won the cup and his dream of winning the cup were accomplished.

Should players of Baggio and Del Piero's caliber be treated like this? Playing them as substitutes and let them be wasted on the bench. They should have hunted out the opposition in pairs rather than been the victims of internal politics. Had they been played together the results would have been much different. I think, according to their talent, they were underutilized by the respective coaches. I think that these things doesn’t happen to the current lot of players like Giuseppe Rossi, Lorenzo Insigne and ClaudioMarchisio.

Last but not the least, Baggio and Del Piero are good friends.