Gabriel Batistuta: The Argentinian 'Lion' who terrorised defences

Gabriel Batistuto of Fiorentina

Gabriel Batistuta, Fiorentina, 1998

As a youngster and an amateur football fan, I grew up watching and witnessing the golden days of one of the most talented and prolific goal-scorers in international footballing history. One of the stalwarts and the face of the Argentinean attack of the 90s – the one and only Gabriel Omar Batistuta. Lovingly nicknamed Batigol as well as El Ángel Gabriel.

With the expressions and instincts of an untamed lion, this prolific Argentinian striker is one of Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorers, with no less than 56 goals in 78 national team appearances, having represented his country at three World Cups.

In the year 2004, Gabriel Batistuta was named in the FIFA 100 list of the “125 Greatest Living Footballers”.

Born on 1 February 1969 to Omar Batistuta and Gloria Zilli in the town of Avellaneda which was a part of the province of Santa Fe, Batistuta started his career with the club Newell’s Old Boys. After a stint with that club, he moved to one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, River Plate, where he scored 17 goals, but was later transferred to River’s arch-rivals Boca Juniors in the year 1990.

Batistuta made his debut in the national team of Argentina in a friendly match against Brazil on 27 March 27 1991 in Curitiba.

Batistuta’s illustrious and glorious international football career started when he was selected to play for Argentina in the Copa América 1991 held in Chile, where he finished the tournament as the top scorer, with six goals in six games as Argentina romped their way to victory.

Launched on the international football arena was a legend who became one of the most complete footballers of his generation, possessing an all-round game with clinical finishing, precise heading and strong free-kick taking abilities.

As the legendary Diego Maradona once said: “Batistuta is the best striker I have ever seen play the game!”

With his handsome looks and awe-inspiring capabilities, this glamorous and incredibly talented striker became an instant hit with football fanatics all over the globe. Batistuta was quick to gain fame and respect. He filmed several commercials and was invited to numerous TV shows, but in spite of this, he is said to have always remained a low-profile family man.

Batistuta played in his second Copa América in the year 1993, in Ecuador, which Argentina won again. In 1994, Batistuta also scored four goals in as many games, including the famous “Bati-triplet”, a hat-trick in the opening game against Greece in the otherwise disappointing World Cup of 1994 for Argentina, which was clouded by Diego Maradona’s suspension.

In the 1998 World Cup, Gabriel Batistuta recorded the second hat-trick of his World Cup career, becoming the fourth player to achieve this (the others were Sándor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, and Gerd Müller). In spite of the splendid performances of Batistuta, Argentina were knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands, courtesy of a last-minute Dennis Bergkamp winner after the two sides had played for a 1–1 draw for almost the entire match.

Batistuta announced that he planned to quit the national team at the end of the World Cup in 2002, which Argentina had aimed to win. But Argentina’s “group of death” saw the team fall at the first hurdle, managing a lone victory against Nigeria (Batistuta scored the match’s only goal). They fell to England 1–0 and managed a mere 1–1 draw against Sweden and were knocked out in the opening round for the first time in four decades.

Gabriel Batistuta of Argentina

Gabriel Batistuta, Argentina, 1994

Batistuta was well-known for his club football career in Italy. During the 1991 Copa América, when Batistuta was playing for his national team Argentina, it was rumoured that the Vice-president of Italian football club Fiorentina was impressed by Batistuta’s immense footballing talent and goal-scoring capabilities and thus signed him for the Italian football club in Florence , which embarked the beginning of a glorious club footballing career.

Batistuta had a fine start in the Serie A with his new club Fiorentina, scoring 13 goals in his debut season. Things became a little tough when the following season Fiorentina lost the relegation battle and were demoted to Serie B, despite Batistuta’s 16 league goals.

Gabriel Batistuta stayed with the club and contributed heavily to its return to the top-flight league a year later. Fiorentina returned to Serie A after one season in Serie B, with the critical contribution of 16 goals from Gabriel Batistuta.

It was with the Italian football club Fiorentina that Batistuta found the best form of his glorious footballing career. He was the top scorer of the 1994–95 seasons with 26 magnificent goals, even breaking Ezio Pascutti’s 30-year-old record by scoring in each of the first 11 matches of the season.

In the 1995–96 season, Fiorentina won the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa. Although Batistuta never won the Italian league with Fiorentina, he was a very popular and loved sporting figure in Florence. The devout Fiorentina fans erected a life-size bronze statue of him in 1996, in recognition of his performances for Fiorentina.

Batistuta, with his grit and unparalleled courage, became the symbol of a hero, a true champion, and became the only living player to whom fans have dedicated a statue. The statue with its triumphant image, leaning against the corner flag in his now legendary gesture of exultation, stands under the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence since 1995.

The day Batistuta crossed the 100-goal barrier in Serie A, it was said that 100 footballs rained from the stands and exhilarated fans in Fiesole Curve exhibited a banner that summed up the thoughts of all those who love football: “Cien veles gracias, Bati” (Thanks a hundred times, Bati).

Gabriel Batistuta later moved to Italian football club Roma in the year 2000, where he finally won the Serie A championship to crown his glorious club footballing career in Italy. He played his last professional season in Qatar with Al-Arabi before he retired in 2005.

With his unmatched striking capabilities and warrior-like attitude, Batistuta will always be remembered as one of the finest, strongest, grittiest and most talented strikers in the world of football. He holds the record of being the 10th top scorer all time in the Italian league and is the top scorer for his country Argentina in international football.

Let us take a bow and salute the living legend of Batigol – one of the most prolific and charismatic strikers of all time s- Gabriel Omar Batistuta!

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Edited by Staff Editor
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