Fiorentina, Juventus and the penalty Roberto Baggio refused to take

The summer of 1990 was unforgettable for calcio. As the host of the World Cup and with the rhythm of Un’estate Italiana, Italy reached to semi-final without conceding a single goal. The defensive line was perfect, Salvatore Schilacci’s goals were changing the scores and the trophy was only two matches away. However, the dream was over after a long night and penalty shootout drama in Napoli. 

After Sergio Goycochea saved Aldo Serena’a penalty, Argentina were going to the final and Azzurri would have to wait for ten years for their next penalty shootout win (Euro 2000 against Holland). Winning the third place match four days later was a consolation for Italy. The next day, on 8 July, Notti Magiche ended, when Andreas Brehme scored and Lothar Matthaus lifted the World Cup for Germany at Olimpico.

Not winning the World Cup was a disappointment for the Italian fans, but for the Fiorentina fans, there was one more reason to be upset the same summer. Alongside Italia 90, the process of a transfer was another major story of the year. Roberto Baggio’s transfer to Juventus was unacceptable for La Viola fans. After reactions and protests, there was total chaos in Florence, but there was no going back. The deal was already done between club owners Flavio Pontello and Gianni Agnelli. It was a new world transfer record.

“I’ve done everything to stay,” said Baggio. However, the UEFA Cup final would be remembered as the match of his current and future club. ‘No’ had been his answer since the first transfer rumours, but in May the only option left for Roberto Baggio was signing the five-year contract with Juventus. ‘Alla Juve per forza non per amore‘ (to Juve for strength, not for love) was the headline of La Gazzetta dello Sport, which summed up the story very well.

Baggio in action in the 1990 UEFA Cup final

Despite receiving a world record fee, Fiorentina couldn’t strengthen the team with new players. The only decent signing was Marius Lacatus, but the Romanian player was far from his Steaua Bucharest days and showed no sign of replacing Baggio. On the other hand, Juventus had the same story with different script. The new signings Baggio and Thomas Hassler formed a great attacking line with the World Cup hero Schillaci. However, the 5-1 defeat against Napoli in Supercoppa Italiana was the first sign of the disappointing season. Juventus were far from the Scudetto race. Moreover, it was their worst season since 1961-62.

The post-World Cup season saw many historical anecdotes for calcio. The beginning of Parma’s rise, Milan’s refusal to continue playing after the floodlights scandal at Marseille (which cost them a year ban in Europe), Diego Maradona’s controversial departure from Napoli, Inter’s first cup in Europe since 1965, and Vujadin Boskov’s Sampdoria winning the Scudetto. It all happened in the same season.

These were some of the unpredicted events. However, it could easily be predicted before the season that some memorable moments would happen in a particular match. It was the match that everyone was expecting to see what will happen. It was Fiorentina-Juventus. In other words, the day when Baggio returned to Artemio Franchi.     

It was a sunny afternoon on April 6th, 1991, with tension in the Tuscan air. The protagonist of the day was Baggio, who was back at the Artemio Franchi as a Juventino. When the teams arrived to pitch before the kick-off, all the fans and the photographers focused on Baggio. Curva Fiesole welcomed their former player with a choreography showing the architecture of Firenze while singing Inno Fiorentina. Baggio talked with his former teammates, greeted the salutes and didn’t react to protests. He was wearing the black and white jersey, but probably viola was still his favourite colour.

By the start of the match, fans whistled the away team whenever they had the possession. The whistles against the number 10 of Juventus were even louder. Whenever Baggio tried to control the ball, dribble or create a chance, he had to deal with the strong whistles more than the defenders around him.            

On the other hand, Fiorentina’s attempts were mostly depended on long range shots. Through the end of the first half, Fiorentina was awarded a free-kick. Diego Fuser’s shot first hit the post then found the target to give the home team the lead. Although, this would remain the only goal of the match, the standout moment happened in the second half.

51 minutes into the game, Baggio showed his flair by surpassing two of the Fiorentina players from the left side and was close to creating a chance for Juventus. When he entered the box he was tackled by Stefano Salvatori, a penalty was given. Baggio was Juve’s first choice for spot-kicks since he joined the team, and scored five penalties during the season. Only three weeks earlier, his last minute penalty earned Juventus a 1-1 draw against Bologna.

However, the circumstances were different at the Artemio Franchi. Anything would be memorable. Scoring would increase the anger of the Fiorentina fans, and missing would upset his current team. He decided not to take it. Luigi de Agostini, who was the main penalty taker of Juventus the previous season, got the chance to make it 1-1, as well as score his first goal of the season. However, he couldn’t do either. Mareggini saved the penalty. 

Fuser’s goal and Mareggini’s penalty save were the crucial moments of the match. But the moment which made the day more unforgettable happened 13 minutes later. Juventus manager Luigi Maifredi introduced Angelo Alessio and substituted Baggio. The whistles had been loud since the kick-off, but while he was walking to the touch line, objects started to be thrown. The tension was in its peak. Baggio kept his composure and didn’t react. He preferred going to the exit tunnel rather than watching the rest of the match at the bench. He started walking and a Fiorentina scarf was thrown in front of him. He refused to wear the black-white scarf in the transfer ceremony in his first day as a Juventus player, but this time without hesitation he took the purple scarf.

When he took it, there were applauses more than the whistles and there was support more than anger in the stands. Roberto Baggio saluted the fans, the Curva Fiesole and walked to the tunnel. The substitution and walk took maybe a minute, but it was the highlight of the match and the image of the transfer process.

Fiorentina won the match 1-0. Baggio refused to give an interview or comment about anything after the match. Juventus manager Luigi Maifredi told that it was decided earlier Roberto Baggio wouldn’t take penalty as Fiorentina goalkeeper – and his former teammate – Mareggini might guess which way Baggio would shoot. The defeat cost Juventus a place in the UEFA Cup for next season, while the win helped Fiorentina to avoid the relegation. It wasn’t a successful campaign for either team, but their match would go down in history,

Baggio came to Artemio Franchi almost every season with different jerseys throughout his career, but his first visit has always been the most prominent one. There was anger, protests but in the end appreciation won.

Words by: Onur Bilgic