Rome, June 28 - The flag-bearer in Italian soccer's campaign to explain the high rate of Lou Gehrig's Disease among former players, ex-Fiorentina and AC Milan striker Stefano Borgonovo, died of the incurable nerve-wasting condition at 49 Thursday. "Ciao Stefano, hero", tweeted former Fiorentina teammate and Italy great Roberto Baggio while the Azzurri's current star, AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, tweeted "Your strength was a life lesson" and ex-Juventus and Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero called Borgonovo on his Web site "a great fighter who loved soccer and life". The Lou Gehrig death rate among ex-players in Italy is 12 times that of the general population. Top anti-doping prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello has been probing more than 40 deaths for 10 years. Doping, other performance enhancers, repetitive head trauma and pitch fertilizers have been touted as possible causes but scientists have yet to pin down the origin of the disease, which in Britain is called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of Motor Neurone Disease. Borgonovo went public with his condition in 2008 and re-energised efforts to solve the riddle, despite never blaming his playing days for it. "I want to find the new penicillin," he insisted. An all-star charity match between his two former clubs, Fiorentina and Milan, helped set up a charity in Borgonovo's name which established a research foundation with funding from the Italian soccer federation. ALS is known as Lou Gehrig's Disease after the US baseball legend who was the first sports star to die of it, aged 37, in 1941. The first well-known Italian soccer player to die of ALS was ex-Genoa captain Gianluca Signorini, who died in 2002 aged 42. Ex-Chelsea boss and player Gianluca Vialli, a former striker for Italy, Sampdoria and Juventus, has his own ALS foundation with former Juventus and Napoli midfielder Massimo Mauro, now a Sky Italy commentator.
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di Giovanni Pastore