Carlo Mazzone described how he gave Roberto Baggio a new lease of life at Brescia. “He was cast out, given the scorched earth treatment.”
Baggio had won the 1993 Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards, but by the summer of 2000 he was a free agent, unwanted by most clubs.
“One day I opened up the newspaper and read that Reggina were negotiating with Baggio,” wrote former Brescia boss Mazzone on Instagram.
“I called up a mutual friend and Roberto told me it was true, but he wasn’t convinced at the idea of moving so far away from his family.
“I took the opportunity and immediately asked if he would like to come and play in Brescia. Roberto replied: ‘I wish.’ So I jumped straight into the car to visit President Gino Corioni and proposed bringing Baggio to Brescia.
“Corioni took a moment and said: ‘Baggio is like cheese on spaghetti.’
“Roberto was training by himself at Caldogno with his personal trainer. He told me: ‘I dribble past my trainer and there’s nothing but desert in front of me.’
“This is the story of the casting out of Roberto Baggio. People said he was broken. A couple of important coaches had given him the scorched earth treatment, said mean things…
“It’s true, Roberto’s knee was a problem for years, but he looked after it. He’d arrive at training an hour early to have physiotherapy and do strengthening exercises, then was the last to leave.
“Baggio made for a wonderful end to my career. I was a fortunate coach: seeing out the twilight of my profession with him was a magnificent experience.
“I can also say that dealing with Robi was a walk in the park. He was quiet, polite, respectful, humble. He never let his great talent weigh on anyone else. He was a friend who helped me win games on a Sunday.
“Baggio was one of the greatest Italian football players of all time. But I can tell you this, he was an even greater man.”
The Divine Ponytail retired in 2004, having scored 46 goals in 101 games for Brescia.
Mazzone is now 82 and put an end to his management career in the summer of 2006.
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