Calcio may sometimes take criticism for the lack of some aspects that other leagues might have. But it should never take a backseat whenever a conversation about prolific goalscorers starts on a public or a private forum. The Italian game has never been devoid of marksmen who never fail to amaze and it is almost like a tradition that gets carried forward every decade.
Ciro Immobile, Cristiano Ronaldo, Duvan Zapata, Edin Dzeko and the likes are only modern examples. These players live and play in an era when fans have different ways of making profits out of their performances. The game’s become more about fans relying on players for just emotional satisfaction.
It is the era when betting thrives, fantasy football will reap you benefits. Fans can invest in players and put their money on performances, using places like betenemy.com who are a leading online bookmaker. The game has become an industry that lives on making fans connect to players in multiple ways than just giving them joy out scoring goals.
Having a bet on a striker to score in a game shapes the way fans view players. If he does score, it leaves the fans happy. If they don’t, their perception of players changes. It is anyone’s guess if that is right or wrong, but that’s just how the game is evolving. It has become a self-existing bubble- a world of its own.
It certainly has drawbacks and good points. But the precedent for them has been set years ago. And Gabriel Batistuta was one of those goalscorers who firmly set that precedent during his time in Italy. His iconic ability to pretty much sniff goals will be an inspiration for strikers who grace Calcio in the years to come.
The Argentine had been at three of the most prominent clubs in South America before his tenure in Italy had taken off. While that itself is rare in its own regard, the manner in which the then 20-year-old refused moves to Manchester United and Real Madrid would come as a shock to fans who will look up Batigol’s name on Google some years on.
Batistuta’s uniqueness is encapsulated by his reasoning for why he rejected United and Real as a youngster. He has admitted to feeling ‘bored’ about potentially scoring too much for clubs like them, as compared to how he would end up making Fiorentina wrestle with the big-boys of Italy. And he certainly did succeed in that regard. It is nearly impossible to imagine anyone doing that in the modern-day game.
The move to the Stadio Artemio Franchi had come after Batigol had helped Argentina win the Copa America in 1991. La Viola were left dazzled by his show in the tournament and took a punt on him.
In his first season in Italy, Batistuta got an impressive tally of 13 goals. He was crucial in their 12th-placed finish that season, as the club would avoid relegation by as many as ten points. Perhaps, the Florence-based outfit may not have stayed in the division if not for the Argentine’s signature.
But the 1992-93 season proved otherwise. Even when Batistuta got 16 league goals, La Viola endured the drop by finishing third-bottom in the table. There was an ever-existing fear that some of the big boys would lure Batigol away, but the striker had something unique in mind. He believed he could make Fiorentina one of the best in the country in the years to come.
By this time, he had already become a well-regarded figure in Calcio. He would spread his arms wide and pump his fists in an outpouring of frenzy emotions every time he scored. He became known for his rock star-like hair and they just added to his image. It made him look like a superhero- like Florence’s very own Jesus Christ.
And he did keep going like a superhero. After one season in Serie B, Fiorentina came back to the top flight with Batigol scoring 16 goals under the tutelage of Claudio Ranieri. They won the Serie B title, paving the way for the Argentine to achieve what he had dreamt of.
In his nine-year-long spell at the Artemio Franchi, Batistuta never won the Serie A with the club. But he had already won many hearts at the club and in Italy. His immaculate finishing and unstoppable hunger to score nearly handed La Viola the title in the 1999-2000 season. But after leading the title-race for a good part of the campaign, the club finished third in the season.
Batistuta had suffered an injury that had kept him out for a month in that season. And it was during this spell that the club’s league form took a dent. But the club was mixing with the big-boys by the time Batistuta’s time at the club was ending. In an era that had multiple spectacular goalscorers thriving in Italy, Batigol established himself as the best one out of them.
In the UEFA Champions League season of 1999-2000, Batistuta would score twice in two games against Manchester United in the group stages. The goals coming towards the end of his stint at Florence was a fitting reminder of how far he had brought the club from where it was. He was scoring against the sort of clubs he never wanted to join because of his feeling of them being ‘boring’. He did that months after United had won the treble in the 1998-99 season. Indeed, him and Fiorentina had come a long way.
La Viola tried their best to keep him at the club. They hired Giovanni Trapattoni and had to come up with promises to win the league in the next season. But Batigol was on his way to Rome to play for the giallorossi.
The €36.2 million fee was a record for a player above the age of 30. Batigol now had the desperation to win the Serie A for the very first time, as his career was reaching the final few twilight years. There was a feeling that Roma guaranteed more of a chance of success, in that regard.
In the lead up to the end of the season, Batistuta had to do the heartbreaking job of scoring against Fiorentina in Rome. In what was an emotional discharge of tears, he had gone over to La Viola fans in the away stand to salute them before the game. He refused to celebrate the goal with his teammates, leaving the game in tears. He had won over fans once again- like his cold-blooded goalscoring instincts had before.
And Batigol did indeed win the Serie A in 2001 with the giallorossi. His tally of 20 goals in 28 games stood out as Roma pipped Juventus and fierce rivals Lazio to the title. As remembrance for his tally and the wait for his first silverware, Batigol would wear the number 20 jersey from the 2001-2002 season. In the next season, he wore the number 33 because of his age.
In the second half of the 2002-03 season, Batigol was loaned out to Inter due to reducing game time and output. For the nerazzurri, the Argentine would play 12 Serie A games and score twice. It became clear that a legacy was heading towards a close.
The striker would seek a move away and come close to joining Fulham. The deal never came to fruition, even though the Craven Cottage-based side was keen on him from the winter of 2002. Not just them, but Chelsea and West Ham were also drawing links with him. The then giallorossi boss Fabio Capello was not too keen on Batigol, with Antonio Cassano being heralded as a potential replacement for him.
But a move to Qatar-based side Al-Arabi followed for Batistuta. And he notched up an impressive tally of 25 goals in his first season, breaking records even at the age of 35. Perhaps, that is what his career will always be known for- doing unique things.
His sniper-like instincts in front of goal are still regarded as one of the best Calcio fanatics have seen in the game. Everything he did off the pitch showed how different a personality he was when compared to others of the same generation. He had the emotion that set him apart and made him an icon of the Italian football culture.
His look, aggression and approach set him apart. He might not have won as many trophies as the social media would want a player to win to call him a ‘great’. But his grace with which he carried himself, despite all the physical and mental odds put up against him would always go down as something the upcoming generations can look up to and admire.
He could have easily taken the easy route to leave Fiorentina after relegation. But he was just different. For him, there existed only one route and it was the route which wasn’t easy. More than anything, he was proud of it and very much respectful of it. Qualities like that have been very much rare to find for a long while now.
In an era when social media is out to judge every minuscule thing and thinks that it knows more than the players themselves, fans often urge players to leave clubs when they become big fishes in small ponds. Loyalty goes unheralded and under-appreciated, with ambition over-valued and glossed. In that sense, Batigol is lucky to not be born in this era.
Even today, a statue of the heroic unicorn graces the Artemio Franchi in Florence. His induction into the Fiorentina Hall of Fame in the previous decade was a true reflection of how many hearts the man won, when the club may not have done without him. An achievement like that can’t be bought by today’s game.
Indeed, there will never be another Batigol in the game. Maybe, modern-day football doesn’t deserve another Batigol anymore.