Ruud Doevendans

Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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Baresi’s remarkable recovery

    Some people who think they know me, have accused me in the past of loving defensive soccer. It’s far beside the truth. But one thing is true: many of my favourite players are defenders, and that’s the way it has always been. Usually I like them better than strikers, and that is because I like players with a great mentality. And defenders are, in average, mentally much stronger than strikers. A striker can rely on a couple of good moments during a match, while a defender has to be alert 90 minutes. He can not afford to lose his concentration a single second, or he will be beaten by a skilled striker. Strikers can make a lot of mistakes and still win the game, and that's the way they mostly play. A defender can play a fantastic match, and still lose it by making one little mistake, and that takes a lot more mental toughness. And the good ones show it. That’s why I was a big fan of Daniel Passarella. Giuseppe Bergomi, Riccardo Ferri and José Camacho, as well as Oleg Kuznetsov, Karl-Heinz Förster and Marcel Desailly are on the list too. But for me, the only man who can compete with Daniel Passarella for the title of the best ever, is Franco Baresi.

    I first recognized Baresi as a truly great in the mid 80’s. His grace, his offensive qualities and his uncompromising defending were amazing. Milan was back in business in the Serie A after being relegated, and Baresi was the leader of the team. And even after Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten arrived at the San Siro, Baresi was the man at the helm. There was no better defender than him. Gallant whenever possible, but drastic and hard as steel when needed. A captain throughout. But above all, a superb tactician. Nobody knew the zonal defence better than Baresi. In the national team however, the late Gaetano Scirea had been an obstacle for a long time. Only when the Juve-man resigned after the World Cup 1986, Baresi became first choice. He was the outstanding sweeper during Euro 88 and led the best defence ever in the World Cup 1990.

    My adoration for Franco Baresi reached the climax during the World Cup 1994 in the United States. Baresi had been injured on his knee in the match against Norway, and underwent surgery the day after. It was nothing too serious, but of course it seemed certain that Baresi wouldn’t play again in that tournament. A disaster for a 34 year old, playing in what was presumably his last big championship. But when Italy reached the final, rumours arose that Baresi could be able to make it. On Raiuno, I saw the squad training the day before and the old maestro took part. He smiled, as if he knew that he was going to play. On the day of the final Televideo Text, page 201 was on my screen the entire day: would he play, or not. Would Sacchi choose Baggio, the other injured star, or Baresi, or would he gamble and play both of them. He couldn’t ignore Baresi, his captain whom he owed so much, he just couldn’t leave him out of the team, in the most important match in his life. Sacchi did what he had to do: “Si gioca anche Baresi”, reported Televideo. Baresi remarkably had recovered in time. Later that day, he proudly led his team onto the field of the Rosebowl in Pasadena. After missing the Champion’s Cup final, just two months before because of suspension, also missing the World Cup final? Never in his life!

    Baresi played a fantastic match. After just a couple of minutes he blocked Mauro Silva, a man built out of concrete. Baresi won that duel. That was the proof he needed to know, the he was physically able to play this match, and he went on to be the best man on the field. He defended majesticly, also 1-on-1 against big guns Romario and Bebeto, and provided cover for his fellow-defenders as well as support for his midfielders and strikers. Until the absolute exhaustion dragged him down. But that was only in the second half of extra-time. And only to return and with an ultimate stretch block Paulo Viola’s last-gasp effort to steal victory, after the quick Brazilian had outplayed Donadoni, Albertini, Apolloni and Benarrivo. But not Baresi, of course.

    The World Cup final 1994 ended in a stalemate. Penalty-kicks had to decide the 15th world championship. I had a friend over that night, and we discussed who would take the kicks for Italy. Roberto Baggio a certainty, Albertini and Evani probable, Massaro and Maldini other possibilities. But what about Baresi, who was totally exhausted and couldn’t put one foot before the other, it seemed? “I bet a little fortune on Baresi”, I said, “he will take Italy’s first kick.” I knew it. Being a captain means, that you will have to take your responsibility when it gets really important. And Baresi never in his career ran away from any responsibility. We all know what happened. Baresi blasted his shot over the bar. And although Marcio Santos’ miss kept things in balance, Massaro’s weak effort – saved by Taffarel – and Baggio’s miss handed Brazil victory.

    The pictures of Baresi, lying on the ground and afterwards crying in the arms of his coach Sacchi, were impressing and will be repeated many times. Claudio Taffarel, after Baresi’s miss, didn’t jubilate, but instead comforted his broken opponent, victim of a mental Bermuda Triangle. That was a nice gesture. Famous Belgian commentator Rik De Saedeleer once said: “There are no disasters in sport, only dramas.” That may be true, but this was a drama in the third degree. Sitting in front of the screen, I couldn’t believe that Baresi, the man who had done so much for soccer, such a beautiful and magnificent player, had missed. It was so undeserved. It had to be a nightmare. Franco Baresi, this model for every player, this symbol of international soccer, should have converted his penalty and subsequently received the world cup, as an award for his total career. It wasn’t to be. But after this match, for me Baresi was promoted from hero to Hero. Not only a player, but also a character "hors categorie".



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