Baggio joins Italy set-up
Italian football legend Roberto Baggio as expected joined the Italian Football Federation Technical Direction (FIGC) on Wednesday as Italy rebuilds after a disastrous FIFA World Cup™ which saw the 2006 champions exit in the first round.
The 43-year-old - known as the 'divine ponytail' in his playing days because of his hairstyle and his conversion to buddhism - was joined by two other greats of the game. Former national coach Arrigo Sacchi - under whom Baggio reached the 1994 FIFA World Cup final where they lost on penalties to Brazil - has been appointed co-ordinator of the youth teams up to Under-21 level and Gianni Rivera, the first Italian to be named European player of the year, will be in charge of teaching and youth sector.
Baggio, who was also a member of the Italy side that reached the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, had earlier expressed his hope that Italy would focus on bringing on young talent. "I dream of Italy being able to begin to cultivate great talent," he told Rai Uno. "But to achieve this we have to believe in the young players that are the future," added Baggio, who retired in 2004 after a stellar career which saw him play for Fiorentina, Juventus and AC Milan.
Chief among the young talent Baggio believes in is Mario Balotelli, who much to the former star's chagrin is set to join big-spending English Premier League side Manchester City from Italian champions and Champions League holders Inter Milan.
Italian football is still in shock after their side put up a limp defence of their world title, under the same coach Marcello Lippi, and finished bottom of their group with just two draws including with minnows New Zealand, who even finished above them. Cesare Prandelli replaced Lippi in the hot seat and has already indicated he could bring in Balotelli and troublesome talent Antonio Cassano for next Monday's friendly with the Ivorians.
After the game with the west Africans, Italy will play Estonia on 3 September and the Faroe Islands on 7 September in qualifying matches for the UEFA EURO 2012 championships in Poland and Ukraine. Formerly a Juventus midfielder, Prandelli spent five years coaching Fiorentina, twice taking them into the UEFA Champions League, having previously coached Parma and AS Roma.