He was meant to oversee one of the biggest changes to Italian youth development of the past decade or so, and he created a plan of just how he intended to go about it. Appointed in August 2010 after an abysmal Italy showing at the World Cup, Roberto Baggio was the man the FIGC felt would improve Italy’s young talent. Now, just over two years later, he has left, with his project having never left the ground.
When he first joined as head of the technical sector, the FIGC had a very clear directive in mind, one which they shared with the world on their website. “The goal is to renew the youth system, in a difficult moment for Italian football, with close co-operation between the FIGC and the clubs in the training of young players.” Baggio, they thought, was a perfect candidate to help them with this.
However, they also made it clear that achieving this goal was not a one-man job. Il Divino was not the only new face to wander into the Federation at that time. Gianni Rivera was given the role of President of the youth sector, and Arrigo Sacchi was appointed as co-ordinator for the Italy youth teams. The three would need to work together if they were to overhaul youth development.
It is from this remarkably early stage that things started to go wrong. In spring 2011 Baggio initially presented an idea that involved supervising the development of players by analysing over 60,000 matches, at a cost of €7m. It was rejected by Renzo Ulivieri, President of the Italian Coaches’ Association, because it encroached on the work of Rivera and the youth sector, and did not fit the ex-Brescia man’s remit as head of the technical sector.
He went back to the drawing board and produced a document entitled ‘Renewing the Future’, which outlined his plans to improve young players in Italy. He presented it to the FIGC in December 2011, and afterwards they said it would be “discussed at the next council meeting.”
Whatever was said in that discussion, and any subsequent meetings after that, the outcome was not favourable for Baggio, who claimed on Wednesday that the FIGC “are not willing to go forward with the project.”
It was not the first time he expressed dissatisfaction with the process. In October last year, he was more than a little disgruntled at the length of time it was taking for the FIGC to respond to his ideas.
“It has been 10 months and I am still waiting for an answer. I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed,” he said. “The funds have been allocated, but so far all we’ve had is an initiative in Tuscany. It was free and attended by clubs like Pisa and Pontedera. Since then, nothing.”
The funding is still an issue, and it was one that Baggio returned to during his leaving announcement last week. “President Giancarlo Abete funded my project, allocating €10m, but the money did not arrive,” he told RAI news programme TG1.
There was a reason the cash did not arrive –the FIGC were not convinced about the project’s direction. There were whispers that Baggio was more interested in dealing with players – encroaching on Rivera’s role once again – than he was with the Coaches, which is where the FIGC wanted him to focus. It was a difference of opinion that Abete confirmed when questioned last week.
“There was a misunderstanding from day one,” he explained. “Baggio thought his task was the scouting of players. But Sacchi, Albertini and I explained that it was up to Club Italia. He had to deal with the training of Coaches – to define rules and principles for the teaching of football to young players.”
It is a little harsh on Baggio. He did include the plans for changes to coaching that the FIGC were looking for – they acknowledged as much in an end-of-year budget statement posted on their website in December 2011, stating there were details on “the renewal of the training course for Coaches.”
Earlier in 2011, in an interview with GQ magazine, when the project was only in draft stage, he spoke of a document that featured the “restructuring of Italian football, from the school for Coaches to the methods used to teach young players,” all geared towards making alterations to the coaching methodology.
Last year, in an interview with the Corriere dello Sport, he was even clearer: “The fundamental principle is the education of the Coaches. Young players need people who have had adequate teaching.”
Whether he was happy to proceed with these plans is another matter. His desire to work with players became apparent when news of his match analysis idea broke, and it could well have taken a reminder from the Federation to get him back on track fulfilling responsibilities he was not entirely prepared for. The motivation for his decision to leave, therefore, may well have been summed up best by Abete: “I do not think he felt at ease in his role.”