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Updated on July 8th 2021, 10:37:18 am

Gabriel Batistuta: The Long-haired Unicorn

Batistuta was chosen to represent Argentina in the Copa América, which was held in Chile in 1991, and he concluded the tournament as the competition's highest scorer with six goals as Argentina romped to victory.

As Arsenal and Manchester United supporters will attest, Gabriel Batistuta has caused enough pain on English football fans over the years, but he's a player you can't help but adore, even when he's slamming one in against your team. Few people realise how successful he was in his hometown, given the amount of renown he established as Viola's line leader during the bulk of the 1990s. Batistuta, on the other hand, managed to play for three of Argentina's most historic clubs — Boca Juniors, Newell's Old Boys, and River Plate – in just three years as a professional, playing under legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa and winning two titles.


Batistuta was chosen to represent Argentina in the Copa América, which was held in Chile in 1991, and he concluded the tournament as the competition's highest scorer with six goals as Argentina romped to victory. Batistuta's qualities intrigued the vice-president of Fiorentina, who bought him after seeing him play for Argentina in the 1991 Copa América. In his first season in Serie A, he had a strong start, scoring 13 goals. Despite Batistuta's 16 league goals, Fiorentina lost the relegation battle and was demoted to Serie B the next season, 1992–93. Fiorentina returned to Serie A after one season in Serie B, thanks to Batistuta's 16 goals and Claudio Ranieri's management, as the club won the Serie B title in 1993–94.


He won the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1992 with Argentina, finishing as the tournament's best scorer. In 1993, Batistuta competed in his second Copa América, this time in Ecuador, in which Argentina won 2–1 over Mexico in the final. The 1994 World Cup, which was held in the United States, was a flop. Argentina was defeated by Romania in the last 16 after a strong start. Diego Maradona's drug suspension had a significant impact on the team's morale. Despite Argentina's dismal elimination, Batistuta scored four goals in as many games, including a hat-trick against Greece in their first match.


Batistuta was at his peak at Fiorentina. With 26 goals, he was the leading scorer in Serie A in 1994–95, and he surpassed Ezio Pascutti's 32-year-old record by scoring in each of the season's first 11 games. Batistuta, along with Rui Costa and Francesco Baiano, helped the club go on a 15-match undefeated streak in the 1995–96 season, finally finishing fourth in the league. The Viola won their first major titles (Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana) in 21 years, despite ending 14 points behind champions AC Milan. The Argentina international played a key role in both victories.


In each of the next three seasons, he scored over 20 league goals, which was all the more astonishing given that Serie A was the strongest league in the world and the most difficult to score in with the greatest defences. The South American's strikes were known for their strength and precision, and spectacular goals against Arsenal and Manchester United in the Champions League became part of Fiorentina legend. In 1999, Batistuta finished third in the FIFA World Player of the Year voting. The Argentine's final effort to win a Scudetto in Florence came in the 1999/2000 Serie A season, and he left the club as their all-time leading scorer in Serie A with a heavy heart.


And that would be the start of the downfall, with the club losing most of its stars, including Batigol, due to enormous debts, and eventually being demoted from Serie A. Despite ailments slowing his ageing legs, Roma paid €36.2 million to make him the most expensive player beyond the age of 30 in the world. Batistuta was welcomed into the club's hall of fame in 2014 after fans erected a life-size bronze statue of him in Florence. But he kept scoring, and he finally won the Scudetto that had eluded him since his move to Roma. With Batistuta as their main striker, Roma won their first Scudetto in 19 years. The Fiorentina's visit to the Stadio Olimpico in November 2000, however, made that title triumph even more renowned. The Argentine scored a fantastic 30-yard volley to win the game in the 83rd minute, just months after leaving Florence, but declined to celebrate with teammates.


He changed his shirt number from 18 to 20 the next season with Roma, in honour of the number of goals he scored during the Scudetto-winning season. In 2002, he also wore his age, number 33, on the back of his Roma shirt. Batistuta, at 34, struggled to rediscover form with Roma and was loaned out to Inter Milan, where he scored two goals in twelve appearances while also providing assists for Christian Vieri. In 2003, he left Italy for Qatar, joining Al-Arabi on a free transfer worth $8 million. Batistuta finished the season with 25 goals, breaking the record formerly held by Qatari icon Mansour Muftah for most goals scored.


Argentina – now coached by Marcelo Bielsa – had a solid set of performances in the 2002 World Cup qualification matches, and hopes were high that the South Americans – now led by Marcelo Bielsa – may win the cup. Argentina's "death group" saw the team fall at the first hurdle, with only a 1-0 win over Nigeria (Batistuta scoring the game's only goal).  Later, they lost 1–0 against England and were held to a 1–1 draw by Sweden. This was the first time the squad had been knocked out in the first round since 1962. Batistuta was Argentina's all-time leading scorer with 54 goals in 77 appearances, a record he maintained until Lionel Messi surpassed it in 2016.


In 2005, Batistuta declared his retirement. He played in three FIFA World Cups, scoring 10 goals in the process, making him Argentina's all-time leading scorer and the joint eighth-highest World Cup striker of all time. Batistuta is the first player in World Cup history to score two hat-tricks in consecutive tournaments. He won two consecutive Copa América titles (1991 and 1993), the 1993 Artemio Franchi Trophy, and the 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup with the Argentina national team. Despite winning the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana with Fiorentina in 1996, he never won the Serie A title with the club, but he did win the 2000-01 Serie A title when he transferred to Roma in 2000.


Batigol had been a Serie A mainstay for years, averaging 20 goals a season during a period when Italian football was frequently broadcast on television and a glorious World Cup hat-trick against Jamaica in 1998. He could strike the ball as if he were punishing someone for a crime, then hit it even harder the next time and the time after that, confused by its resurrection.