The most successful foreign striker in the history of Calcio and Argentina's all-time top scorer, Gabriel Batistuta, alias "Batigol", has just announced his retirement from the game, two years after calling time on his international career in the wake of Argentina's disappointing performance at the FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea 2002™.
He has reached this decision after a disappointing start to the season with the Qatari club Al-Arabi, having made only three starts for them so far due to a niggling knee injury. Only last year, however, he finished as top scorer in the Qatar championship with 25 strikes.
Now aged 36, Batistuta is choosing to hang up his boots before playing one match too many, a decision which perfectly reflects the character of a player whose conduct has been exemplary in every area of life. Strictly on a sporting level, his international scoring record of 56 goals in 78 appearances is well superior to that of his idol, Diego Armando Maradona. What is more, ten of these strikes came at the three different FIFA World Cups (1994, 98 and 2002) in which he has taken part, making him the sixth highest scorer in the tournament's history.
When he arrived in Europe, the striker who learned the ropes at Newell's Old Boys, with whom he reached the final of the Copa Libertadores in 1988, had already won everything in Argentina. His domestic career was also notable for the fact that he played one season with River Plate before switching to their arch rivals Boca Juniors.
'Batigol' then spent no less than nine seasons enthralling the tifosi of Fiorentina, where he clocked up just shy of 300 goals in all competitions. Due to his penchant for a settled family life and his attachment to the purple shirt of the "Fiore", his trophy cabinet remained distinctly underused during this period (one Italian Cup). Nevertheless, he became a kind of demigod in Florence, entering into the cultural heritage of his beloved adopted city to such an extent that a statue of this reserved but charming character was even erected at the entrance to the stadium.
An extraordinary eye for goal
Equally adept with either foot, as any top-notch striker should be, and exceptional in the air, Batistuta's prime attribute was surely his extraordinary eye for goal. His sixth sense for the slightest opening and awesome anticipation around the penalty box or on the edge of the area have entered into football legend. Furthermore, as befits a captain of distinction, he was never afraid to roll up his sleeves to defend or come deep looking for the ball.
In the summer of 2000, Batistuta joined Roma for 38 million euros, scoring twenty goals the following season and winning his first Italian championship in the process.
Few suspected it would prove his swansong, but 2002 was marked by a significant downturn in Batigol's fortunes. First, at club level, he scored just four times in 12 appearances, but most devastating of all was the Albiceleste's ignominious FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea 2002™ exit. "Given the hard work put in over four years and all the European experience of our players, I was convinced we would become world champions. Being knocked out like that was a massive blow," Batistuta lamented at the time. By November 2002, he had called time on his international career, having made his final appearance in the 1:1 draw with Sweden in June 2002.
After another fruitless season with Inter Milan (2 goals in twelve games) and a last big money move to Al-Arabi (for eight million dollars), Batistuta has finally decided to end his playing days and return to Argentina where he owns a sizeable amount of land.
And as he departs for his homeland, Batigol, like a traditional tango dancer, cuts a somewhat forlorn figure. For strangely, this player never accumulated the honours his tremendous talent deserved. Still, despite this slight blemish on his copybook, he will always occupy a place in the upper echelons of the greatest goalscorers in the history of the game.
Gabriel Batistuta in brief
Date of birth: 1 February 1969
Birthplace : Reconquista (Argentina)
Height: 1.83 m
Weight: 73 kg
Reconquista de Santa Fe (1987), Newell's Old Boys (1987-89), River Plate (1989-90), Boca Juniors (1990-91), Fiorentina (Ita/1991-2000), AS Roma (Ita/2000-2002), Inter Milan (2002-Jan 2003), Al Arabi (Jan 2003 - March 2005)
78 caps, 54 goals
First cap: 27/06/1991, Brazil-Argentina (1:1)
Last cap: 12/06/2002, Sweden-Argentina (1:1)
First international goal: 08/07/1991, Argentina-Venezuela (3:0) (2 goals)
Last international goal: 02/06/2002, Argentina-Nigeria (1:0)
Argentinian Championship (1990)
Italian Championship (2001)
Italian Cup (1996)
Italian Supercup (1996, 2001)
FIFA World Cup: 3 editions (1994, 1998, 2002), 12 matches, 10 goals
Copa America (1991, 1993)
Copa Libertadores: finalist (1988)
Top scorer in Italian championship (1995, 26 goals)
South American player of the year (1994)
Top scorer in Copa America in 1991 (6 goals) and 1995 (4 goals)