I’d like to take a moment, to tell you about Gabriel Batistuta, as I’ve come to realise something recently, that I have a true love for strikers, so I thought I’d form my own Great Strikers Union and make it a semi-regular feature.
A real striker, in my book, is not simply a goalscorer, or a centre-forward and especially not a target man, no. A striker for me is someone who lashes the ball into the net with the venom of a pit viper’s bite. A player who can hit the ball with such ferocity into the goal that it appears as though his foot may catch fire at any moment.
I’ve already written about the inspiration that was George Weah, a player of tremendous talent who sadly never reached the heights he achieved in Italy with Milan while playing in England. I’ve written about Grant Holt, a character of such epic proportions it’s almost impossible to write about the man without slipping into an extended metaphor. Well there is another forward I have love for in my life, for I have quite the appetite for them it seems, so please cleanse your palate for a slice of Gabriel Batistuta.
I’m not a biographer, I cannot offer any special insight into his character. There are certainly many others far better placed to offer a critique of his footballing ability and where he should stand among the greats of Argentinian football in the history of the beautiful game. But often such prose lacks poetry. Football by the numbers. If it were simply about how often a player could put the ball in the net, Gerd Müller would be recognised as the most outstanding striker of all time, but that is not the case, it’s not as simple as that.
Style is important, character is essential. Football is the beautiful game, not the quite good-looking might fancy her if she sorted her hair out and had slightly bigger breasts game. Gabriel Batistuta had both style and character. He is also a handsome man, in fact, when you consider he is also Argentinian and can be seen doing his best to convince Kim Neilsen to send off David Beckham at France ’98 it goes to show what a fabulous footballer he must have been because on the face of it I definitely should have hated the mere sight of him.
If those were the only facts I knew about him having, not ever seen him play I’d certainly have considered him to be worthy of abuse, but the thing about Gabriel Batistuta is that once I saw him play he was impossible to dislike. He scored goals, a prolific number of goals, but here’s the crucial part, nearly all of them were fantastic to watch.
Gabriel Batistuta’s greatest goals highlights reel would be massive. Like the third instalment of Pete Jackson’s Lord of the Rings you would be forever thinking it was about to end, only for it to keep going. Surely this must be the end now, you think to yourself, as Gabriel bursts into song, surely there can be no more great goals? But oh no, wait, yes there is, he’s banged in another screamer from 40 yards and it’s damn near on killed Frodo, so those clever Elves have stuck him in a boat to keep him safe.
One of my friends is often openly mocked for noticing the things in a football match that might otherwise pass you by. For example “he’s got great hair” is not an unexpected comment about a player. When watching Gabriel Batistuta, you can’t fail to notice his hair. He’s like Samson, mythical in stature, his goal scoring power derived from the flowing golden locks of his hair.
Gabriel Batistuta powers his shots into the goal from every angle. Any fool can tap the ball home, but it takes a brave hero, a real champion of a man, to smash it in without conceit and with total conviction. Then there’s the celebration. I hate all this timid rubbish we suffer so often. Players trying to look cool when they have scored. Unless you actually are cool, like in the case of Mario Balotelli, don’t bother. Gabriel Batistuta celebrated his goals like he scored them, with vigour and joy. Nowadays when “over celebrating” earns you a yellow card (my most hated of all the new laws of the game) I sorely miss a player of Batistuta’s calibre who would smash the ball home then smash the corner flag in celebration with a flying kung fu kick even Nigel De Jong would envy or pulling out his imaginary machine gun and laying waste to sections of the crowd.
Don’t think that this is all that there was to Batistuta however, there is another side to the man which demands respect. He played most of career for Fiorentina, why you might ask, well, because he liked it there. He liked the club, he liked the city of Florence and who can blame him, it’s a beautiful place. I think it’s obvious from the way he played the game that Batistuta appreciated real artistry and that goes hand in hand with passion, it’s easy to see why he might feel at home in a city of such artistic beatuy. So regardless of the fact that he was one of the most coveted strikers on the planet, not least by Sir Alex at Old Trafford, in Florence he remained where he scored an absolute shit ton of goals.
Every man eventually reaches a stage in his life where he thinks it might be nice to win something, to get some token of recognition for his work. Batistuta was to reach this point at the end of the 99-00 season, where he decided to pack his bags and leave Florence for Rome (not exactly an ugly place to live) and join AS Roma. Roma hadn’t won the league since 1983, so it was an interesting choice, picking Roma who had finished 6th the previous season ahead of the traditional big Italian clubs, Milan and Inter, Juventus and Lazio who were the defending champions having pipped Juve to the title by a point.
Under the stewardship of Fabio Capello Roma won the title and this was in no small part due to the 20 goals contributed to the team by Batistuta. He had his winners medal, but then he realised, like all sensible people, that there was something else that would be nice to have and that was lots of money. So he signed for Al-Arabi in Qatar. You might consider this to be “selling out” but this isn’t a phrase I like. I prefer “cashing in”. Not being the type of chap to turn up in Qatar to simply take the money, Batistuta set about scoring 25 goals in 21 games breaking the leagues scoring record, because that’s just the type of player he was.
Batistuta had achieved everything he had wanted to achieve in his playing career. He scored 56 times winning 78 caps for Argentina, making him comfortably the countries all time leading goal scorer. His international scoring record is incredible, Lionel Messi can only dream of having such scoring success for his country and very few players can have any genuine claim to making Messi jealous of their record.
It saddens me that Batistuta never played in England, it was always said that his game would have suited English football, which I always thought was a stupid comment, as scoring goals in huge quantities should suit just about any type of football, perhaps excluding George Graham’s Arsenal. But I think the English fans would really have fallen in love with him. I will always remember Gabriel Batistuta for his passion, his power and his rocket propelled sledge hammer of a right foot that could peal a watermelon. He is well worth a place in my Great Strikers Union.