Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

David Schiavone On October - 20 - 2010

Legend of Calcio: Gabriel Batistuta

One of the greatest strikers of modern football is of course Gabriel Batistuta, when you think of goals his name is one of the first that springs to mind. He enjoyed a fabulous playing career at the likes of Boca Juniors, Fiorentina and AS Roma, whilst also carrying his fantastic club form to the international arena.

Born in Avellaneda, Argentina on 1st February 1969, Gabriel Omar Batistuta did not play football as his first sport as a youngster, he was a keen volleyball and basketball player but after seeing the magnificent Mario Kempes play during the 1978 World Cup, he decided to devote himself to the beautiful game. He is quoted as saying, “I was bewitched by [Mario] Kempes, a real champion.”

After a few games with friends he joined a local club called the Grupo Alegria club, where his teammates soon nicknamed him “El Gordo” – “Chubby” - then moving to the local Platense junior side where he won the provincial championship beating the more famous Newell’s Old Boys on the way to the trophy. Batistuta’s goals caught the eye of Newell’s coach Marcelo Bielsa and not long after he signed his first professional contract with them, in 1988.

His time at Newell’s Old Boys was an unsettling experience for the young Batistuta; he was far from home, his family and his girlfriend. Forced to sleep in a room at the stadium, he also had to deal with weight problems that often kept him off the field of play.

But to get some game time he was loaned to minor side Deportivo Italiano of Buenos Aires, who participated in the Viareggio Tournament in Italy. Batistuta was the tournaments top scorer and caught the eye of the Italian scouts plus those from some of the larger Argentinean sides.

On his return to Newell’s he participated in the Copa Libertadores Final against Nacional in 1988, a match that Newell’s won one-nil.

A transfer to River Plate occurred midway through 1989 and he immediately made an impact at his new club scoring seventeen goals in his first season, but problems with coach Daniel Passarella meant he was dropped from the team, with Passarella recalling, “Batistuta? He had square feet and a technique to match.”

So after only one year with the club he left, making one of the most forbidden moves in football. He joined archrivals Boca Juniors.

But things did not go to plan at Boca as he struggled for form during the initial stages with the club, but the appointment of Oscar Tabarez in January 1991 rejuvenated the striker and that season he played more than 30 games, scoring 13 goals which ultimately helping his team win the 1991 Argentine League championship, with Batistuta as top scorer.

This form brought him to Europe with Fiorentina the destination, and after initial problems settling in, the goals soon started flowing as he went on to bag an impressive 13 goals in his debut season. Then, the following year he scored 16 goals but Fiorentina were relegated from Serie A, however, his sense of loyalty to the fans kept him in Florence and Fiorentina bounced straight back up thanks to the Argentinean’s goals.

Fiorentina then put themselves up alongside the giants of Italian football and were led by their talismanic striker. His most prolific season came in 1994/95 when he scored a record 26 goals in 32 games, breaking Ezio Pascutti’s 30-year-old record by scoring in all of the first 11 matches of the season. By this point he had earned the nickname “Batigol’ for obvious reasons.

The following season he led Fiorentina to the 1996 Coppa Italia and four months later Fiorentina played in the Supercoppa Italiana against AC Milan; two goals by Batistuta earned Fiorentina the trophy. Not many people put Franco Baresi on his backside… Batigol did! He had it all, pace , power, an uncanny ability to find space and his right foot could send balls flying at the speed of sound towards the net.

However after many failed attempts at sealing a Scudetto, Batigol was beginning to get itchy feet, he wanted to win the Italian Championship and felt the only way he could do this would be to move to a bigger side, but the appointment of Giovanni Trapattoni convinced him to stay and have one last shot at it in Florence.

Disappointment in the Champions League and a lowly seventh place in Serie A precipitated a move away from Florence and in 2000, after more than 250 appearances and 168 goals, Batistuta finally left Fiorentina, as the clubs all time top scorer, when he signed with AS Roma for around £20 million.

Although a knee injury restricted his appearances, he still managed to score 20 goals for Roma in his first season and realized his dream of winning a major trophy as Roma clinched the Scudetto for the first time since 1983.

Poor form through a persistent knee injury ultimately led to his departure from Roma after 3 years in the Eternal City. He was then loaned to Inter for the 2002/03 season but only managed 2 goals in 12 games as his body struggled with the rigours of top-flight football.

He then departed for Qatari team Al-Arabi on a free transfer in 2003 and broke the record for most goals scored by bagging 24 goals in his maiden year and was awarded for being the top scorer in all Arab leagues in 2004 with the Golden Boot. The after two years in Qatar he retired from football in 2005.

Playing in three World Cup Finals for Argentina, he was as prolific for them as he was for the club sides he represented with 56 goals in 78 caps, and is the top scorer of all time for his country. He scored two hat-tricks in World Cup becoming the 4th ever player to do so, but became the first to score a hat trick in 2 World Cups after putting three past Jamaica in 1998

Since retiring he has moved to Australia, done his coaching badges, bought a farm in Argentina, has taken flying lessons, marketed his own patented anti-aging skin cream and written the autobiographical essay “Batigoal tells Batistuta,” for which he was named one of eight finalists for the 1998 Italian literary prize, the Bancarella Sport. A devout Catholic and dedicated family man, as well as an active philanthropist for international causes particularly for charities aiding his beleaguered Argentina, his CV is most impressive and more recently he has taken up Polo and Golf.

Rather surprisingly he has never pursued a career in coaching or management despite his qualifications. On his retirement he said of football, “When I was playing football I never enjoyed it that much, I was never happy… if I scored two goals, I wanted a third, I always wanted more. Now it’s all over I can look back with satisfaction, but I never felt that way when I was playing.”

With over 300 goals in just over 500 competitive games, Batigol is among the elite of all time goal scorers. He is loved in Argentina and in Italy. Fiorentina have erected a bronze statue in tribute to the legend during his time with the club and he certainly is a Legend of Calcio.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Dandino says:

    Great piece.

    Watching that video, Batigol was a big fan of a near-post finish when one on one with the keeper!

  2. David Schiavone says:

    Some stunning goals there, I like the one where he puts it over Baresi’s head

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