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"In any language, the whole world is united by a ball." --- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Excerpts from "Una Porta Nel Cielo" by Roberto Baggio

Image credit: Limina Edizioni srl.

With the World Cup on the near horizon, I wanted to feature a book from a legendary figure of world football: Roberto Baggio. He wrote this autobiography, "Una Porta Nel Cielo" ('A Goal in Heaven') in 2001.

I read parts of this book before each World Cup as a way to recall this extraordinary player's unique, if painful, place in the history of this fabled event.

This book contained many topics from Baggio's life that had not been previously discussed in great detail. The autobiography had an interesting literary format: It appeared as a long interview between Baggio and an Italian journalist, Enrico Mattesini (who also published the book at his publishing house, Limina.) Sadly, Signor Mattesini passed away last year.

Let's take a look at a few translated excerpts from this intriguing book.

Discussion Items

  1. Excerpts from Daisaku Ikeda's Preface (President of Soka Gakkai International)
  2. Excerpts from Chapter 1: That Day in Pasadena
  3. Excerpts from Chapter 2: Buddhism

Baggio discussing his World Cup career with a Brazilian journalist.

Image credit:
360 Network.

1. Excerpts from Daisaku Ikeda's Preface (President of Soka Gakkai International):

Roberto Baggio and President Ikeda in 1999.
Photo credit:
Fantasista, or the artistic player of your dreams.

You find the highest praise aimed at our Roberto Baggio. No one else. And it is Baggio himself who admires the figure of Leonardo da Vinci and calls that Renaissance giant, a  fantasista. But, what is the strength that allows a fantasista to be a fantasista?

I met Roberto Baggio for the first time in June, 1993, in Tokyo. It was his gaze that struck me the most: A transparent gaze. One embellished with an iron-like warrior's will who fights to the very end. At the same time, his eyes radiated the humility of one who searches in life for a value that is far away from earthly glories. And a sincerity of one who wants to dedicate himself to others.

I urged my young friend: Fight and fight to the very last instant! And he nodded with a smile and departed for the United States. It would be futile to comment once again about the eternal drama where he was the protagonist. The succession of miraculous goals by him, who lifted himself up more times than not despite a body that was full of injuries, brought the Azzurri to fight until the very last instant. His passion had to move the spirit of everyone.

He won. He won in a great way a challenge with himself. Just after his battle ended, I sent him, with absolute admiration, this message:
Long live the victory of a great king of football! 
(Pages VII-IX).

2. Excerpts from Chapter 1: That Day in Pasadena:

Photo credit: Chris Wilkins.

I would have won or lost that World Cup at the last second. My spiritual teacher, Daisaku Ikeda, told me so. And he was one who couldn't be wrong. I thought about that phrase day and night, but that doesn't suffice to give a response. I asked myself what would happen, what development would unwind, how would that prophesy materialize.

When I saw that ball go in versus Nigeria, it was like watching a risky shot in billiards. When I saw this, my World Cup began. I felt at peace on the inside and was replete with grace. My vital state was very pure.

My burden was called Pasadena. Pasadena is the name of my prophecy.

The years immediately following Pasadena were the worst. I wasn't myself. The burden made the dribbling of my childhood inconceivable. No, I have never metabolized it thoroughly. Because to lose on the pitch is one thing. To lose by a penalty kick is another. There would not be a celebration even after a victory. Because it's not a victory. Never.

Who knows why that ball sailed so high. It would almost make you laugh, for one such as I, who had only missed a few from the spot. And those few were always stopped by the keeper. There was never a high shot. Never even in training sessions, not even on purpose, not even by accident. (Pages 5-7).

The Famous Subbing Out by Sacchi

"Robi, you need to be calm. You don't need to worry about new playing formations because you, for us, are like Maradona for Argentina. Fundamental." (Arrigo Sacchi)

I must say that phrase lifted my spirits a great deal. I felt so much responsibility on me. I was still the reigning Ballon d'Or winner and everyone waited for me to take off from one minute to the next.

And against Norway, he subbed you out after 10 minutes?

What bothered me wasn't so much the tactical choice because I'm not stupid. And I know that when a team loses its goalkeeper and goes down to ten men, the most natural thing is to take off an attacker. For goodness sake, you could have made that change from a tactical sense. What hurt me a great deal was the complete incongruence of what he told me the day before with what he did out on the pitch. "But how could you take me out at the first sign of difficulty? Well, I mustn't be as important as you told me."

And, I must confess. I lost confidence in him as a person more than as a coach. If he truly held me in the same esteem as the Maradona of our team, he would have never taken me off. Not even in that emergency situation. (Page 10)

Translator's Note
  • Sacchi subbed out Baggio when the Italians went down to 10 men versus Norway due to a an early red card on Gianluca Pagliuca. The Azzurri won 1-0, on a goal by Dino Baggio.
On the missed penalty versus Brazil:

Brazil 0 - Italy 0 AET 3-2 (The penalty kick shoot-out in Pasadena.)

When I walked up to the spot,  I was relatively calm. As much as you could be in those circumstances. I knew that Taffarel always dived as I was well-acquainted with him. So I decided to shoot down the middle, at mid-height, a little more than a half a meter high or so. Because that way, Taffarel wouldn't be able to get to it with his feet. It was an intelligent decision because Taffarel actually threw himself to his left. And he would have never stopped it with the central trajectory that I had in mind. Unfortunately, and I don't know how, the ball rose up three meters and flew over the crossbar.

The Brazilians said that the trajectory was assisted by Aryton Senna in heaven.

Who knows? It's a romantic explanation for a technically-inexplicable action. If not due to my own fatigue...

As I've said many times, only those who miss penalty kicks are ones who have the courage to take them. That time I failed. Full stop.

I missed the last penalty which "cancelled out" those by my teammates (Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro). There was a need to manufacture an image from that World Cup and they chose my mistake... When it came time to select a sacrificial lamb, they took me. Forgetting that without me, perhaps we would not have gotten to that final. (Pages 14-15)

Translator's Note
  • Ayrton Senna, the great Brazilian Formula 1 racing champion, tragically passed away in May 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

3. Excerpts from Chapter 2: Buddhism:

Photo credit: Chris Wilkins.

Buddhism is the foundation of my life. It's the most beautiful thing that I could have found and discovered. It is that which I entrust my life.

From that 1 January 1988, you never stopped being an observant Buddhist?

Never. Not even a day. The briefest pause would also be intolerable. I pray for at least two hours every day. It is an untouchable appointment in my life. In any place, situation, circumstance, I've always prayed. During training camps, abroad, or when I was ill: Always. (Pages 27-28)

Has it ever happened that you converted somebody? Perhaps among some of your teammates?

That is a question asked of me at other times. There is a strange curiosity surrounding this topic and also a little bit of ignorance. It's as if someone imagined that I was some sort of preacher who goes into training camps to defend his own word. 

I'm a reserved person and I become even more so when you speak of faith. It doesn't come to me to speak of it lightly. I can tell you that many teammates have asked questions of me, prompted out of curiosity, but the matter remained there. Evidently, it was not their time. (Page 32)

Do you believe you will always be able to maintain self-control?

I hope so but can't be certain. Surely, the day that I lose it will be a war. I've never feared anyone and just like all of the mythical persons, the day they get angry is really when they are most dangerous. There is an animal inside of me. I feel it but it's important that it remains asleep, domesticated, just like now. (Page 35)

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries and The Soccer Translator

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