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Italian soccer legend Roberto Baggio is looking forward to a coaching career which may include a stint at a J. League club or as Italian national team boss, he said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday.

“As a professional player I consider my career closed, but I don’t want to exclude the possibility in the future that I may return, but not as a player,” he said when asked whether he was weighing offers from J. League clubs.

“I would have to think about coaching other clubs before coaching the national team.”

The 38-year-old Baggio is unsure about the trend of blooding national team managers based on their reputations as players and without them cutting their teeth as club coaches.

Managers such as Japan’s Zico, Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann and the Netherlands’ Marco Van Basten are three big-name players who have been fast-tracked to national team jobs.

“Van Basten went directly to the national team without coaching any other clubs,” Baggio said. “It’s not the norm in Italy.”

Nicknamed the “Divine Ponytail” because of his rat’s tail-style hairdo, Baggio is a devout Buddhist and a member of Soka Gakkai. He was in Japan at the religious group’s invitation.

Baggio says he turned to Buddhism while at a low ebb.

“What I found was a kind of strength to get out of the difficult moments that I have in my life. I can now get through difficult moments. That wasn’t possible before,” he said.

Baggio spoke fondly of Soka Gakkai President Daisuku Ikeda.

“I have a very strong connection with my master Daisaku Ikeda. I know his principles, I know his values and I stick to them — that is the most important thing to me.”

Looking toward the 2006 Germany World Cup, Baggio believes Italy should be in good shape by the time the finals come around.

“There are quite a number of young players who could become very good in the future and Italy has a good chance in the next World Cup,” he said.

Italy is five points clear at the top of its qualifying group with two games to play, and after a wobbly start is now red-hot favorite to advance.

Baggio, though, is in no doubt as to which team the clever money is on.

“The favorites are Brazil. They have shown great strength — particularly in the Confederations Cup — they have young players who can adapt easily.”

Baggio had a glittering career, playing for Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan among others, while earning 56 caps for Italy.

He is most remembered, though, for blazing his spot-kick over the bar in the 1994 World Cup Final penalty shootout, which handed the trophy to Brazil.

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