Gabriel BatistutaRenaissance Sights
The son of a slaughterhouse worker, prolific striker Gabriel Omar Batistuta was born on 1 February 1969 in Avellaneda in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina.
Nicknamed 'Batigol' as well as 'El Ángel Gabriel' (Spanish for Angel Gabriel), Batistuta played most of his club football with Italian side Fiorentina, in the beautiful, historic city of Florence - home of the Renaissance. He is the tenth top scorer of all-time in the Italian Serie A league, with 184 goals in 318 matches. On the international stage, he is Argentina's all-time leading goal scorer, with 56 goals in 78 national team matches. He represented his country at three World Cups. Although notorious for clinical finishing, his heading and free-kick taking abilities ensured his status as one of the most complete strikers of his generation.
Batistuta grew up near the city of Reconquista, and as a child, preferred other sports to football. Due to his height, he was drawn to basketball. However, after witnessing Argentina's victory in the 1978 FIFA World Cup, in which he'd been overwhelmed by the skills of Mario Kempes, he switched allegiances and devoted himself to football. After playing with friends on the streets and in the small Grupo Alegria club, he joined the local Platense junior team. While with Platense he was selected for the Reconquista team and they won the provincial championship by beating Newell's Old Boys from Rosario. His 2 goals drew the attention of the opposing club, and he signed for them in 1988.
Batistuta had a difficult professional baptism with Newell's Old Boys, he was away from home, his family, his girlfriend Irina, and sleeping in a room at the stadium. However, towards the end of the season he had a successful loan spell with smaller team, Deportivo Italiano, of Buenos Aires, where he attracted the attention of one of Argentina's biggest clubs. In mid-1989, he made the leap to River Plate and scored 17 goals, However, all did not run smoothly. He had numerous run-ins with coach Daniel Passarella and he was dropped from the squad in the middle of the season. In 1990, Batistuta moved again, This time to River's arch-Buenos Aires rivals, Boca Juniors. Having gone so long without playing, he initially found it hard to find his best form. However, at the beginning of 1991, Oscar Tabárez became Boca's coach, and he gave Batistuta the support and confidence to become the league's top scorer that season. Boca won the championship.
His stock was rapidly rising, and impressive performances for Argentina in the 1991 Copa América earned him a lucrative move to Fiorentina in Italy's Serie A, then regarded as the best domestic league in the world. He had a fine start, scoring 13 goals in his debut season. However, the following season, 1992–93, Fiorentina were demoted to Serie B, despite Batistuta's 16 league goals. He stayed with the club and helped it return to the top-flight league a year later with a telling contribution of 16 goals.
It was in Florence, that Batistuta found his best form. He was the top scorer of the 1994–95 season with 26 goals, and in the following season Fiorentina won the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa. He had become a massively popular figure in Tuscany. Although he never won the Italian league with the 'Viola', he was worshipped by the Fiorentina fans, and in 1996, they erected a life-size bronze statue of him in recognition of his performances. In contrast to his rugged, 'rock-star' image, Batistuta was a devoted family man. In 1996, during Fiorentina's 2–1 victory at Milan, he celebrated scoring the match's decisive goal by saying 'Te amo, Irina' ('I love you, Irina', to his wife) looking directly into the TV cameras.
'Batistuta is the best striker I've ever seen play the game.'