Even before his first-division debut for Boca Juniors, Sebastian Battaglia had already built a formidable reputation for himself within the fabled club. The midfielder, born in the Santa Fe province, had caused a stir ever since joining the Buenos Aires outfit and was widely predicted to grow into a key component of the Xeneize midfield.
Nearly 15 years have passed since young Sebastian arrived in the capital, and those who forecast great things for him then been proved spectacularly correct. At the age of 27, the central midfielder has accumulated a list of silverware the envy of any veteran performer. Since his debut in 1998, the Argentinian has won five domestic league titles, four Copa Libertadores, two Intercontinental (Toyota) Cups and one Recopa Sudamericana. Next on the agenda is a third visit to Japan and Boca's bid for the FIFA Club World Cup 2007. As he prepares for December's showpiece event, Battaglia took time out to chat to FIFA.com about the challenge ahead and a possible rematch with AC Milan.
'I can't quite believe it'
Even after nine years as a top-flight regular, Battaglia still struggles to get his head round his achievements. "Even I can't quite believe everything I've achieved with this team," he said. "It only really sinks in when you look in magazines, go over the record books... To be honest it's unbelievable!" says the serial medal-collector. "Now I keep hold of everything, and the day I retire I'll have them for the rest of my life. You have to enjoy these things to the full because you don't know if they'll happen again."
Sebastian is not one for resting on his laurels, however, and is currently focused on the imminent trip to Japan - his third to the Land of the Rising Sun. The omens are certainly good, on his previous two visits the Xeneizes came back with the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup after defeating no lesser sides than Real Madrid and AC Milan. Not that Battaglia and Co. will be letting their guard down: "No, certainly not. It's not easy to stay motivated after so much success, but you have to keep setting yourself goals and going in search of them. Even more so at a club like this, whose history demands so much."
"I've still got very clear memories of the two times we won in Japan. I was very young (20) the first time around and I was fortunate enough to play against Real Madrid. I'll be eternally grateful to Carlos Bianchi for believing in me," says Battaglia with feeling. "I was more experienced when we faced Milan in 2003. I remember I missed a penalty in the shoot-out but we still won. It was a strange experience because it was my farewell match before heading to play in Spain."
Yet Battaglia's spell in La Liga with Villarreal did not last, and in 2005 he found himself heading back across the Atlantic to rejoin his spiritual home. "The truth is that you miss Boca once you leave. Here there's a winning mentality that you'd struggle to find anywhere else: nobody settles for second best and everybody wants to win more trophies," says the Xeneize icon, whose thirst for success remains unquenched. "Things went well for me in Spain, but it's just not the same. Now I want to continue like this, by winning everything. Japan is another good opportunity."
Nobody likes losing
At Japan 2007, Boca Juniors have a good chance of coming up against European heavyweights AC Milan, the team they beat in the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup final in 2003. Despite statements to the contrary from the Italian camp, Battaglia expects the Rossoneri to be eager for revenge.
"There was a lot of talk about how European teams didn't care about the title as much as South American sides, but I can assure you they didn't enjoy losing that final one bit. Nobody likes losing and Milan, with their rich tradition, are no exceptions. I don't think they'll have enjoyed making the trop and seeing us come away with the Cup," says Battaglia, who has recently been called up to the Argentina national squad.
Given the fierce competition awaiting them in Japan, Battaglia avoids classing Boca in the role of title contenders: "We've got two very difficult games ahead of us (if we want to win the trophy). There's no doubt that we've earned a certain level of respect over the years and nobody will be underestimating us, but we need to produce the performances to match."
On a personal note, were Boca and Milan both to make it through to the final, the inspirational midfield man could have the opportunity to make up for that missed spot kick from 2003. "I'd face up to that situation again, no problem," he says, a steely glint in his eyes. "Penalties are nerve-racking, especially for the fans, but if I found myself in the same situation today I'd be more than happy to step up again." With such determination and strength of character, a third success from three trips to Japan is a distinct possibility...