Skip to main content
Original Issue

A Young Eagle Flies High Italy's most powerful professional clubs are avidly pursuing Roberto Cravero, who is in turn chasing after Olympic glory

THE STORY IN THE JUNE 27 edition of Italy's La Gazzetta dello
Sport looked more like something from The Wall Street Journal than
from a sports daily, bearing as it did the headline MARKET REPORT:
The hot property in question -- hot even for the sizzling Italian
soccer market -- is 24-year-old Roberto Cravero, otherwise known as
l'Aquilotto, ''the Young Eagle.'' According to the article, the price
for Cravero's services would reach $7.5 million by the time his
current team, Turin, and the country's bigger clubs, like
International Milan, Rome and Naples, finished their bidding war for
him in early July. But Cravero was in no particular hurry to change
cities for the sake of big money. ''I won't leave Torino,'' he told
La Gazzetta -- or at least he won't until his contract expires next
year. By then the Olympics will be over, and Cravero's price might be
even higher.
The Italian team is virtually certain to advance from the 16-team,
four- group, round-robin phase to the quarterfinals at the Olympics.
That is because Italy lucked into a dream draw, grouped with
relative lightweights Iraq, Zambia and Guatemala. And all of Italy's
fans -- the tifosi (''fevered ones'') -- are looking forward to the
exploits of their Young Eagle. ''I am not a predator, of course,''
Cravero says through a translator. ''I like to think of myself as
calculating and technical, detached and soaring over the game. Like,
well, an eagle.''
Indeed, during Italy's Olympic qualifying games, Cravero soared
like an eagle, playing the position his countrymen call libero, the
''free one.'' The function of the libero is to roam the entire field,
falling back fast on defense and orchestrating plays and attacking on
offense. In English that position is called sweeper, and its modern
form was defined in the 1970s by the great West German, Franz
''Beckenbauer?'' says Cravero, perhaps a touch disingenuously.
''I've heard of a Beckenbauer. Maybe I saw him a couple of times on
TV. But that was all a very long time ago. I can't say I recollect
much about his techniques. . . .''
Cravero had his tongue in his cheek and his backside in a garden
chair amid bushes of red and yellow roses as he spoke to a visitor in
the Adriatic city of Cesena. ''For 11 months of the year you play or
train,'' he says. ''And the other four weeks you rest . . . and read
all the sports pages every day to see what your future holds.'' He
was especially happy to meet today's American guest. Why? The Young
Eagle, it turns out, is a pro basketball fan, a devout follower of
the Los Angeles Lakers. He watches them on Italian TV. He wishes to
learn more about them. ''You know them?'' he asks eagerly. ''I like
them! , James Worthy! Byron Scott! Magic Johnson! This Kareem!''
''Also Bord,'' says his wife, Monica.
''Lorry Bord,'' she says impatiently. ''From the Boston.''
''Not so good as Lakers!'' shouts Roberto.
Cravero's route toward the summit of Italian soccer was a
characteristic one. His father, Francesco, worked in the Michelin
tire factory in Turin, and he and Roberto would watch the local pro
team play at Cromodora Park in the town of Venaria Reale, close by
the city. After school, Roberto would play in pickup games. At the
age of 12 he played on Turin's Pulcini (''Chicks'') team and quickly
came under the care of coaches whose job it was to groom prodigies
like Cravero for higher-level teams in the organization. When Turin's
first- division team won the Italian championship in 1975-76, Cravero
served as its ball boy. ''I've made a lot of sacrifices since then,''
he says. ''You feel isolated. You give up a lot of fun. I've made
three trips to a disco in 10 years. You lose friends. But I do it
because I love it. Even after all this time, I have kept my passion
for the game. I regret nothing.''
In Olympic qualifying, Italy faced tougher opposition than any it
will meet in the early stages in Seoul. In the toughest game of all,
when the Italians played East Germany to a scoreless tie on the
Germans' own ground in Magdeburg, Cravero played brilliantly. But
Roberto is not the best libero in Italy. Not yet, anyway. During the
recent European championships in West Germany, he sat on the bench,
while the libero who wore the blue jersey of the Italian national
team was Franco Baresi of Milan. ''Everybody knows that Baresi is
right now the best libero in the world,'' says Cravero. ''It was a
great satisfaction for me to back him up.''
Cravero appears certain to be Baresi's successor, since Baresi
will not be in Seoul: Under rules governing Olympic eligibility for
soccer players from Europe and South America, he is ineligible
because he played in World Cup competition. So, barring injury,
Cravero will be Italy's libero in the Olympics. The Seoul tournament
will serve as a proving ground for the 1990 World Cup, which will be
held in Italy, and the tifosi have high hopes for l'Aquilotto.
And what about 1994, when the World Cup comes to the U.S.? Will
Cravero be there? ''If not as a player, then as a Laker fan,'' he