Growing up in England, there was barely a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon during the '90s when I couldn't be found in front of the television watching cult Italian football show Football Italia. As is still the case in Britain now, the English Premier League could only be watched on subscription channels, so supplemented between free-to-air highlights staples such as Football Focus and Match of the Day, the Serie A showcase was like a kind of exotic sustenance for my football-obsessed mind.
The show — presented by the ice-cream eating, newspaper reviewing James Richardson — has come to be referred to in some parts as a kind of Italian football bible, showcasing the league when it was at the height of both its power and glamour. Essentially, it was the Milanese catwalk translated into sports form.
Clubs like AC Milan, Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Lazio, and Fiorentina became household names, strutting their stuff in now-legendary kits. Holidays to places on the continent were spent searching the market stalls for cheap knockoffs. Striped, purple, and sky blue jerseys emblazoned with sponsors like Pirelli and Nintendo were utterly alien to a kid used to seeing drab names like Sanderson and Dimplex blemish the kits that belonged to your average Premier League teams.
It was also about the players, and wow, did they have some players. Posterboy names — think Ravanelli, Signori, Recoba, Weah, and Batistuta — would clash against defenses fortified by such as Maldini, Thuram, and Cafu, all of them looking utterly immaculate. Where the Premier League, for the most part, based itself on physical lumps up-front and even bigger ones at the back, Serie A's players barely got their shorts dirty. But there was one player that had me tuning in more than the others, and his name was Roberto Baggio. Unfortunately, Baggio is often remembered for the crucial penalty he missed against Brazil in the World Cup final at USA 94. But the player, nicknamed the "Divine Ponytail" because of that haircut, was the coolest name in a league full of them. As Maradona wounded down his career, Baggio was the new number 10 who would assume his mantle. If his look was idiosyncratic, equally so was his playing style. Baggio seemed to float over the grass, lost in the moment — living the mantra of Ram Dass' "Be Here Now" — he danced.
This week, Netflix has launched the Roberto Baggio Biopic “Il Divin Codino,” which covers highlights of his 22-year career and hone in on the moments that captured a nation, and the hearts of a football-mad world. To celebrate this, we run the rule over an all-star, five-a-side team of Serie A's most stylish players during the '90s
To focus on his ponytail is to skirt over the fact that Baggio had style both on and off the pitch. His Diadora boots, the luminous logo on shiny black leather, looked so luxurious. The oversized fits of the Italy and Juventus jerseys on his wiry frame flowing in the wind as he glided over the pitch makes the heart skip a beat. Despite not being a substitute often, the way he could carry a bench jacket was on another planet.
This guy kept us up all night and not just because of the sublime way he re-invented defending. Whilst in the UK, I was used to watching the hulking caveman-like forms of Steve Bruce and Neil Ruddock batter strikers, Maldini with his chain swinging around his neck looked like he galloped straight off of the catwalks of Milan. Maldini spent his whole career at one club and looked just as intimidating in a suit as he did the red and black stripes of AC Milan.
Before Beckham there was Hidetoshi Nakata. The Japanese playmaker who spent most of his career at Parma was always obsessed with fashion and was a major pin-up in Japan during the '90s. After his career ended, his interest in modeling and fashion flourished further and he became the muse of many, including one time Calvin Klein creative director Italo Zucchelli, who said of Nakata: "He plays with fashion... but in a cooler, more sophisticated way than many others."
The original Ronaldo, R9, or Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, lit up the Serie A when he joined Inter Milan for the then world-record fee of $27 million. He is also partly responsible for helping make Inter Milan into one of the coolest clubs around. Those Pirelli-sponsored jerseys from that era have become shirts of legend with Nike using them for inspiration at every opportunity. Aside from his absolutely ridiculous talent on the pitch, R9's style also drew the eye. From the now-legendary Nike Mercurial R9's, that haircut during the 2002 World Cup, or how to wear a tracksuit like no other, the big guy had it all.
Last but certainly not least is Gazza. A bit of a wildcard here, but the guy knew how to pull off an attention-grabbing fit. When he joined Lazio from Tottenham Hotspur, the world was at his feet and the aforementioned Football Italia received record viewing figures for his first televised game. What he could do with a ball has never been matched by an Englishman since, but looks like the Lazio flat cap worn during his transfer press conference will live as long in the memory as his goal against Scotland (sporting a bleached blonde crop) during Euro 96. Celebrating the release of "Il Divin Codino,” Diadora has just dropped a nostalgic range replicating the original USA 94 World Cup Jerseys and teamwear worn by Baggio, Maldini, and co during the tournament. Read more about it here.