Nickname: “Bati”, “Batigol”
Date of birth; 1 February 1969 in Reconquista, Argentina
Nationality: Argentinian and Italian
Clubs: 1988-1989: Newell’s Old Boys (28 matches, 8 goals). 1989-1990: River Plate (24 matches, 4 goals). 1990-1991: Boca Juniors (47 matches, 19 goals). 1991-2000: Fiorentina (332 matches, 207 goals). 2000-2002: Roma (86 matches, 33 goals). 2003: Inter Milan (12 matches, 2 goals). 2003-2005: Al-Arabi (Qatar; 26 matches, 26 goals).
Honours: 1990: Argentinian league champion. 1991: Copa America winner, player of the year in South America. 1993: Copa America winner. 1994: played in the FIFA World Cup™ in the USA (4 matches, 4 goals). 1996: Italian cup winner. 1998: played in the FIFA World Cup™ in France (5 matches, 5 goals). 2001: Italian league champion. 2002: played in the FIFA World Cup™ in Korea/Japan (3 matches, 1 goal). 78 caps and 56 goals for Argentina.
“Batigol” does not miss football
As handsome as ever, now with a goatee, and always well dressed, like a model. This is former football star Gabriel Batistuta at 39, who now says he does not miss the sport.
No, no, I’m in Argentina now, I’m here,” Batistuta replies when asked where he has hung his hat, where he calls home. Indeed, a few months ago the former Argentina striker decided to leave behind the good life in Perth, Australia, to return to Argentina, to the small town of Reconquista in the province of Santa Fe, after a long absence. It has taken 17 years for this international superstar to return to his roots.
This quiet town is where Batistuta now spends all of his time. Unlike in Buenos Aires, Florence or Rome, a few of the cities where he has lived at one time or another, he can walk around here without being bothered or asked for autographs. He is the most famous person in town, but he is Gabriel, just another neighbour, who as a child played basketball and dreamed of becoming the next Michael Jordan, because he did not like football that much … until he changed his mind, starting out with Platense Porvenir football club.
He went back to Argentina for various reasons, even though he enjoyed life in Perth, where he spent his time with his family – his boys – and playing golf, and he had always had doubts about returning because of safety concerns. “Australia was great for a lot of reasons, because the people are respectful and they respect your privacy and let you get on with your life. There’s also the question of safety. I went to live there because it’s an organised country.” So why has he returned to Argentina, where “you come, it’s chaos, and you wonder why we can’t be like them”?
It was in large part because he wanted to be closer to his family, who had health problems, and to take on other responsibilities, such as taking care of the livestock and thousands of hectares he has invested in, and the many people he employs, together with his dad, Osmar. The situation has become complicated in the last few months, with the confrontation between farmers and the government in
Argentina. On this subject, Gabriel says “there was a massive dispute, and I was on the side of the farmers”. He now lives with his wife Irina and their four sons -Thiago, Lucas, Joaquin and Shamel — in a new house that he built in his hometown. “I go about my business here and nobody takes any notice of me,” he laughs.
WALKING ON CRUTCHES
Two of his sons are football-mad and have shown talent for the sport in the village, but Gabriel is frustrated because he cannot even have a kick-about with them. His long and vigorous career left “Batigol” with ankle problems, making even walking difficult, so he recently had to have surgery and was on crutches. But he never gives up, and hopes to be able to continue playing golf, his favourite sport, and polo. In fact, it is in Reconquista that he has taken the innovative step of establishing a centre for those two sports, to be called “La Gloria”, in honour of his mother, a housewife and volunteer at the local hospital.
Since he cannot play, and he is not seen at matches, what is his relationship with football now? He is completing the coaching course offered by the Argentinian association of coaches via the internet: “I’ve been taking it quite seriously because there are two subjects I’m particularly interested in: psychology and group management. I’ve already said that the secret to being a good coach is picking the right time to say things. That is 80 per cent of a coach’s job.”
Batistuta dreams of becoming a coach, although at the moment he is preoccupied by other things and acknowledges that he needs to be better prepared before taking on such a challenge: “I don’t want to coach yet. I don’t miss football at all, I only watch the occasional game, like the recent EURO tournament in Austria and Switzerland. It would be stupid to get involved in all that now, I still have to mentally prepare myself. I don’t need it today, but if the Argentina national team calls, I’ll say yes, because there are other motivations involved there.”
“IT WAS A BIT OF A PAIN”
Beyond everyday concerns, this extraordinary former player, who speaks four languages (Spanish, Italian, English and Arabic), takes the time to recall a few anecdotes from his successful past, when he could not walk the streets of Florence in peace. He tells this story with a smile: “I lived on top of the hill, away from the centre. And when I wanted to go to eat at a restaurant, I called to say I was going, I got dropped at the door of the restaurant and I went in. It was uncomfortable, and everyone always agreed with everything I said. ‘Bati said so …” That can go to your head if you don’t have your feet firmly on the ground. It was a bit of a pain, and I was always pretty calm, I never understood what it is that a player inspires in people just by scoring a goal; I’ve never understood it. I can understand that they value you as an example of hard work, but for them to agree with you when you say ‘good morning’ at 8.00 p.m. is another thing.
He is still the top scorer in the history of the Argentinian national team, a major achievement, even though “records are there to be broken”. He recalls a memorable moment that went beyond winning titles: “I remember the good things. Like the 1994 World Cup, when we were in Boston, lining up to go onto the pitch, behind Diego Maradona: we all had goose bumps. I’ll also never forget watching the 1990 World Cup in Italy on television and thinking that I would play at the next one.” He never won a FIFA World Cup77″, not in 1994, 1998 or 2002. And, without him, Argentina did not succeed in winning in 2006 and have yet to win any other major titles: “There are some very good players, but we need to grow a little more. Luckily, 2010 is still way off. Some things need to be changed fot the team to become winners. We cannot think we are better than we are, we have to be realistic. In South America, we are the best together with Brazil, but there are very good teams in Europe, and we are not above them. We are at the same level and, in some cases, worse.”
We will not see “Batigol” playing football again, but perhaps on a horse, playing polo, a truly Argentinian sport, with the top players. Or playing golf, where he is always on target, just like when he played football.