Games between Juventus and Fiorentina are no short of polemic, but arguably nothing is as polemical as Roberto Baggio’s actions on April 6, 1991.
On May 19 1990, Florence was in complete anarchy. There were bricks, molotov cocktails, pieces of iron, chains and many other objects thrown; 50 people were injured and nine more were arrested. Flavio Pontello, president of Fiorentina, was almost locked in the club headquarters due to the riots, for he had done the unthinkable: sell star player Roberto Baggio to Juventus.
Not only was he Fiorentina’s star player, but the relationship between Juve and La Viola got even worse following the 1982 Serie A title, which was won by the Bianconeri in the final stages of the season.
The simple reality was: the Florentine club was short on money and needed to sell players; Baggio himself admitted that he did not want to leave Florence, but was forced to do so by Pontello, who had already agreed a deal with Gianni Agnelli over the sale of ‘Il Divin Codino’ for a world record fee at the time.
The truth is, Baggio’s relationship with the Bianconeri faithful wasn’t stable from the start, as some fans claimed that he refused to wear the club scarf during his presentation, however it became much worse on April 6, 1991 when La Vecchia Signora travelled to face Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The reality was that both sides were simply subpar that season, Juve finished seventh, whilst Fiorentina finished in 12th. However, it was Baggio’s first return to Florence since his transfer to the Bianconeri, and he was received with a great deal of hostility.
Baggio was booed throughout the game by Fiorentina’s Curva Fiesole, but he had the chance to silence them when he won a penalty in the second half, an opportunity to put his side level having gone behind in the first half courtesy of a goal from Diego Fuser.
However, despite being a penalty kick specialist, he refused to take the spot-kick. His refusal came as Baggio believed his former teammate knew him so well, he would almost certainly stop his shot. The responsibility was then left to Luigi De Agostini, but it mattered not as Viola goalkeeper Gianmatteo Mareggini tipped the low shot wide.
If that wasn’t controversial enough, Baggio then picked up a Fiorentina scarf that was thrown onto the pitch in a gesture of appreciation towards the club, immediately after being substituted. The issue though was that Juventus went on to lose the game 1-0.
The incidents outraged Juve supporters, with a reported 300 Bianconeri fans showing up to training two days later to criticise him for picking up the scarf. Coach Luigi Maifredi though was quick to defend Baggio, telling them had an ex-Juve player done the same, they would’ve been proud of his action.
‘Il Divin Codino’ also later revealed that he did not actually ‘refuse’ to take the penalty, but avoided to do so because he was afraid of missing. Maifredi backed up Baggio’s claims by stating that it was agreed upon before the game that Baggio would not take any penalties, as he had shot at Mareggini “more than 8000 penalty kicks” when both players were recovering from respective injuries.
Ties between Juventus and Fiorentina always brings talking points along with them, but Baggio’s actions on April 7 1991 will forever be engraved in calcio history, let alone the rivalry between both clubs, let’s home we see some drama on Tuesday.