How a Bolognese detour rekindled Roberto Baggio's career

Team 33's Raf Diallo looks back at the Divine Ponytail's brief Bologna spell on The World Is A Football

Roberto Baggio, Bologna

Roberto Baggio (Picture by: Matthew Ashton / EMPICS Sport)

Before Gabriel Batistuta, it was Roberto Baggio that Fiorentina fans idolised.

Then they hated the man who later fired over a penalty in the 1994 World Cup final.

Back in 1990, his world record transfer from Fiorentina to Juventus sparked riots in the streets of Florence and also kept the hatred La Viola fans had for Italy's most successful club well and truly lit.

But as we looked back at Batistuta and his extraordinary success with the Florence club and then briefly for Roma on Team 33 this week with Viola Nation and The Gentleman Ultra writer Chloe Beresford, you do wonder what separates a true great like Batigol and also Baggio from that upper crust of talent like the Diego Maradonas of this world.

On one hand, the answer is obvious: lead your country to World Cup glory almost single-handedly or be the leader and star of a perennially successful club side.

Baggio was successful at Fiorentina and then for Juventus, before falling out of favour in Turin and making the move to AC Milan in 1995, just after their era of European and domestic dominance began fading away.  

It was also during the ensuing two-year spell that he barely played for the Italian national side, just years after his penalty in a shootout against Brazil could have kept his country's chances alive in the USA '94 final.

As footballing immortality defied him, the Divine Ponytail had to conceive a means of reigniting his career ahead of the 1998 World Cup which is how he ended up at Bologna in the summer of 1997, having fallen out of favour at Milan.

Baggio evades Taribo West of Inter, who famously sported an odd haircut at the '98 World Cup (Picture by: Matthew Ashton / EMPICS Sport)

A move to Carlo Ancelotti's Parma fell through that summer as the soon-to-be Bayern Munich manager felt he wouldn't be able to fit him into his 4-4-2 formation - not the first time Baggio would face that predicament.

So Bologna it was. A storied club with seven Serie A titles to their name, all those successes came by the mid-60s and by the time Baggio had joined The Bolognese, they had experienced numerous relegations and years of mediocrity.

Having scored just nine goals in 33 games for Milan in 1996-97, the following season with Bologna would restore him to former glories. 

The star man at a relegation candidate and with nine months to get back into the Italy picture, the challenge was clear for Baggio and he cooked up a storm in Emilia-Romagna. 

His team-mates weren't bad as the 1997-98 edition of Bologna contained ex-Sweden striker Kennet Andersson (scorer of 12 league goals that year) and goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli, who never won an Italy cap but was part of their Euro 2000 squad and won the 2001 Scudetto alongside Batistuta at Roma.

Check out every one of Baggio's Bologna goals in 1997-98 right here:

From the very first match-day of the season, Baggio was firing in the goals, scoring eight times in the first 10 games - albeit a fair proportion being penalties, highlighting his prowess from 12 yards which is unfairly tied up with that one flash of failure in '94.

One satisfying moment for him came much later in the season when he faced former side Milan (who finished all the way down in 10th at the end of that campaign) as his two goals contributed to a 3-0 home triumph for Bologna:

Ending the season with a double against Lazio in a 2-1 win, the final table and goalscoring charts made for satisfying reading for him.

His efforts led Bologna to a high of eighth place in the Serie A table that season, just missing out on a UEFA Cup first round spot by a single point.

But on a personal level, he finished the season with a stunning 22 goals, only being beaten to the Capocannoniere (Italy's top scorer crown) by Oliver Bierhoff of Udinese (30 goals) and the original Ronaldo who plundered 25 strikes as Inter controversially missed out on the Scudetto to Juventus (hardly the first time or last time, opposition clubs had grievances at losing out to the Bianconeri). Plus, he finished one goal clear of then-Fiorentina hero Batistuta.

Ronaldo would go on to star at that summer's World Cup before the odd events which saw him pull out and then be reinstated to Brazil's World Cup final squad.

Zinedine Zidane of course would enjoy a crowning moment in Paris that July, after being part of that season's Juventus side.

And for Baggio, there was good news internationally. Nominated for the Ballon D'or, Italian Footballer of the Year, Serie A Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year on the back of his Bologna performances, he did make it into the 22-man squad named by Paolo Maldini's 'oul lad Cesare, going onto get plenty of game-time due to injury issues for his Juventus successor Alessandro Del Piero.

Finishing that tournament with two goals, it's possible he might not have even got to go to France if it wasn't for his decision to sign for Bologna.

Unfortunately for the club, he only stayed with them for a year, before joining the third of Italy's big three, Inter Milan, after the World Cup as he had supported the Nerazzurri since childhood. 

A couple of years later though, it was another minnow in the shape of Brescia who he sprinkled with gold-dust at the end of his playing career as he continued to record impressive goalscoring rates for a mid-30s player.

You can read more from The World Is A Ball series every Wednesday on Newstalk.com. To find past articles, head to the Team 33 show pageAnd you can listen into the interview with Viola Nation and The Gentleman Ultra's Chloe Beresford on the podcast player: