My “legend” is Roberto Baggio. Although he may not grace the lists of greatest players such as Pele, Maradona, Zindane and Messi, he is my legend. When you are a young football fanatic you worship certain players, players who ignite your imagination, players who inspire you and ultimately players who you go into the back yard and attempt to emulate. For me those players were Alan Shearer, Eion Jess, Del Piero and most importantly Roberto Baggio.
Alan Shearer, introduced to me by my Blackburn season ticket holding uncle, scored goals goals goals which were easy to recreate in the back yard. Eion Jess was a young player with skill and potential, played for my local club, Aberdeen, and represented the achievability of the dream. Roberto Baggio was foreign, untouchable and truly wonderful. Of Roberto Baggio I was in awe.
It was C4s Football Italia which introduced the divine pony tail to me. His performances, his skill and the way he presented himself on the pitch hooked me to the show and I watched every Sunday. I endured some awful Catenaccio knowing that at some point Baggio or perhaps his Juventus prodigy, Del Piero, would do something to make me pick up my football, pull on my boots, head to the sloping hallowed turf of the back garden and attempt to re-create the goal before the sun went down.
Not only did Baggio introduce me to tremendous technique and skills such as the crossing of the ball with the wrong foot, but also the depths of footballing despair. Having followed Italian football on the TV they were the team I chose to support in the first World Cup I was old enough to remember, USA 94. That he, the World Player of the Year was injured for the final was a tragedy in itself, and Baggio playing with heaving strapping on his leg was a sorry sight, but I (and clearly the Italian management) still believed that one moment of magic could win Italy the World Cup. In the end it was Baggio who struck the crucial penalty high over the bar, Baggio whose chin slowly slumped to his chest, subtle and moving, and Baggio who sent a 9-year-old boy to bed wondering if there was any justice in football.
Baggio opened the my eyes to the artistry and despair of football and, like a hard drug, once your hooked there is no going back.