ROME: Roberto Baggio, an Italian World Cup hero in 1990 and 1994, has paid a moving tribute to Stefano Borgonovo, his former Fiorentina team-mate.

Borgonovo died in midweek, aged 49, from the paralysing and wasting condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In a ‘tribute letter’ Baggio wrote the following:

“My dear Stefano, the greatest feat you ever achieved over these past years was to transform the poison of your disease into medicine for others.

Goodbye my friend, I will always hold you in high esteem. I was taken aback when I heard the sad news but I realised that it is one of those mysterious facts of life. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

You were one of the great heroes of our time, with Chantal, your darling wife, a pillar of strength beside you. You offered your suffering in favour of research to battle ALS, the disease that was barely known when it struck you.

What you did has been priceless for others. This is why you, Stefano, have left us a legacy of great humanity and infinite dignity.

Countless memories are racing through my mind at this moment.

The first of these was in 2008 at the Stadio Franchi, a friendly between Fiorentina and AC Milan to raise money your foundation.

We were back together again on our pitch, facing the Fiesoli end with our fans in good voice.

Two years later we were together again at the Gazzetta offices, for the presentation of your book. Your eyes said it all as ever and, as ever, Chantal was by your side.

But to tell you the truth I must confess that my thoughts are flashing back even further in time, to the years we spent together at Fiorentina – and to when, as Fiorentina players, we were both called up to play for Italy.

We were young, without a care in the world and our careers stretching out ahead of us. Our dreams were coming true and do you know what made me really happy? I don’t think I ever told you. It was setting you up to score with an assist and seeing that infinite happiness in your eyes.

That day and the happiness I remember, dear Stefano, is what consoled me when I learned of your death.

That as well the knowledge that you had finally shaken off the grip of that “bitch” as you always called your disease. May my thoughts and prayers keep you company on your journey through Paradise.”