The 90s were quite an exceptional time for the Serie A. There were five to six top-class teams and some of the best strikers in the world played in the Italian top-flight.
One of them was Batigol, Gabriel Omar Batistuta, who was just distinct from the others.
His exceptional hair with his French cut was a thing of beauty, add to that his flamboyance on the pitch, and you have the perfect South American striker.
For a team blessed with strikers like Palermo, Crespo and Claudio Lopez, it was Gabriel Batistuta who led the line for Argentina, and did so emphatically.
He won three International titles for Argentina and is still their highest World Cup goalscorer with 10 goals to his name.
Born in Santa Fe Argentina, Batistuta’s father worked at the slaughterhouse and the incisive nature of his finishing seems to come from the paternal side.
His mother was a school secretary and the discipline and principles with which he played the game seems to stem from his mother.
After impressing at the youth level, he was signed by Marcelo Bielsa for the Newell’s Old Boys and the rest, as they say, is history.
Newell Old Boys, River Plate, and Boca Juniors
Batistuta spent a year at Newell’s Old Boys before moving to River Plate. Unfortunately, he could not find his form in the Red and White of River Plate and got transferred to arch-rivals Boca.
After an impressive 90/91 season with Boca where he scored 13 Goals, Fiorentina came calling.
The 21-year old joined the Viola after an impressive Copa America where he helped Argentina win the title with six goals in the tournament.
And he adapted to the Italian league with no problem whatsoever. He scored 13 goals in his first season which was quite a respectable return for a 21-year-old.
This is of course the Serie A of the 90s which had some of the best defenders in the world.
The following season, his 16 Goals could not help Fiorentina from getting relegated. And once they did, everyone might have expected him to move to another club in the top flight.
He clearly would have made it into the starting eleven of most clubs in the Serie A. But he surprised everyone by staying and helping Fiorentina get right back to the top division.
As the club got back where they belonged under Claudio Ranieri, Batistuta was all fired up. He scored 26 goals in the 94/95 season and ended up topping the scoring charts that year.
He would end up scoring more than 20 Goals for Fiorentina in the league on three separate occasions as he became a major Serie A attraction.
In this time, he formed a formidable partnership with Rui Costa who was a delight on the ball himself and later joined Milan to win the Champions League and the Serie A.
In his 9 seasons playing for Fiorentina, he scored the Most Goals for the club in Serie A (152). He is 7th in All-Time Fiorentina Appearances which itself is quite impressive for a striker.
But it was not all fairy tales for the Argentinian. In his time at the club, every season started with the hope of winning the Italian crown but ended in the disappointment of falling short.
The only accolade he won with the Viola was the Coppa Italia in the 95/96 season.
As he entered his 30s, he could either chase the dwindling dream of a Serie A playing in the Fiorentina purple or realize the dream of winning the League in Rome under Fabio Capello.
So the decision came and led him to AS Roma for a humongous fee at the time.
After spending almost a decade in Florence, the then 31-year-old Batistuta moved to Rome in search of the Serie A crown in 2000.
The transfer fee of €36M was the highest ever paid in the division for a player over 30. Just a testament to his greatness.
In his first season with the club, he scored 20 Goals and helped Roma to the Serie A crown, their first in 17 years.
During the campaign, there was the iconic moment where Batistuta scored a sumptuous volley against his former club Fiorentina.
The Stadio Olimpico erupted but the Prince of Florence could not control his emotions and began to cry.
Before and after the game, he acknowledged the Fiorentina supporters who still respected him as one of their own.
Batigol could not find his touch in the next two seasons as he struggled to displace Montella from the side.
Inter and Al Arabi
He only scored 6 times in 2002-03 including a small loan spell at Inter and finally moved to Al Arabi in Qatar for one final season at the top.
In the Qatar Stars League, he scored 25 Goals in 18 Games to show that he still knew the way to the back of the net.
Due to injuries, he could only play three times in 04/05 as he bid the game a farewell.
The international career of Batigol started with a bang. He scored six goals to help Argentina win the Copa America in 1991.
He was also the top scorer one year later as Argentina triumphed in the Confederations Cup.
And in a hat trick of international triumphs, he scored twice to help Argentina win in the 1993 edition of the Copa America.
On the World Cup stage, while his team was often disappointing, Batistuta was not.
He scored four, including a hat trick, in the infamous 1994 edition where Maradona had his famous doping suspension.
He scored another hat trick in the 1998 edition but the campaign was cut short after being defeated by Holland.
Again in 2002, Batistuta got on the score sheet but Argentina could not qualify from a tough group including England, Sweden, and Nigeria.
Batistuta finished with 54 Goals and became the all-time top scorer for his national side, a record only to be ousted by a certain Lionel Messi.
What made him special?
The interesting part of his game was the way he hit the ball. He kicked it like it was his worst enemy. The kind of power he generated in his shots was unparalleled.
Add to that his shooting accuracy, and you had a lethal striker.
Another great quality of Batistuta was his ability to make his own chances. He would often lead the line alone and would beat several defenders with a quick movement.
He was also lethal in the air and could score beautiful volleys at will.
He had the relentless spirit that most Argentinian Strikers have and was a leader on the pitch.
Had he not been injured as much as he was in the latter half of his career, he could easily have gone on to play for a few more years at the top level.
- He finished 4th in the 1999 Ballon d’Or race behind stalwarts like Rivaldo, Beckham, and Shevchenko.
- Won the Copa America twice (91 and 93).
- Won the Coppa Italia with Fiorentina in 95/96
- Scored two different hat tricks in the World Cup and did so in two different campaigns, the only player to do the latter.
- His 52 Goals for Argentina are second only to Lionel Messi
- Scored 249 Goals in 444 Club Games in Total
Playing Football at the top level and suffering numerous injuries was not kind for Batistuta. He suffered various injuries especially to his ankle that caused considerable pain to him.
He would often wake up crying with pain and on one instance, asked his doctors to amputate him!
Recently he underwent an ankle replacement surgery to relieve his pain.
This chronic pain also affected his walking for the longest time and prevented him from having a career in management.
After his football career ended, he started a construction company to keep himself busy and also does commentary in Argentina from time to time.
His kids grew up in Florence and he also stayed in Qatar for a year before moving back to Argentina in 2007.
Gabriel Batistuta: Player Summary
While his exploits with Argentina make him a legend in South America, he found his home in another continent in the beautiful city of Florence.
In a time when many clubs would have been interested in him, Batistuta stayed firm defending the Fiorentina colors.
And when he won the Serie A trophy with Roma, Fiorentina fans were able to forgive him as he never lost respect for them.
Perhaps that was the greatest quality of Batigol, he was not only a great footballer but was also a dignified person.
When he was ousted by Lionel Messi as the highest goalscorer for Argentina, he said that at least his record was only beaten by an extraterrestrial and not a human!
He was the kind of player we need more of in the modern game.