The tortured story of the understated genius that was Gabriel Batistuta

“I wet myself in bed, with the toilet three metres away, because I didn’t want to get up.”

These could be the words of a friend describing the morning after a big session, but they are instead those of the great Gabriel Batistuta, describing the plaguing injury troubles he suffered as a result of his prolific career.

“I saw Pistorius and said: “That’s my solution.”” Don’t worry; our beloved Batigol never contemplated killing his wife, but the former Fiorentina striker did consider a (far less) shocking course of action.

“I went to the doctor and told him “Cut off my legs”. He looked at me and told me I was crazy. I insisted, I couldn’t do it anymore; I was constantly in a bad mood. I can’t describe the pain, it’s impossible to convey the pain.”

Batistuta was eventually persuaded against the idea, and is now feeling more comfortable, but there can be no doubting the sacrifice he’s made to write his name in the history books. One gets the feeling he would do it all again, though; not for the fame or the money or even the trophies: For Gabriel, it was always about the goals.

Although plenty of his finishes were aesthetically pleasing – have a look at the video further down the article if you’ve any doubt about that – that never seemed to really be of any significance to Gabriel. Many of us have had, or still have, one of those unscrupulous friends who live by the questionable mantra “Any hole’s a goal”; for Batistuta, one gets the feeling it was more like “Any goal’s a goal.” Every time Gabriel scored, he looked like a kid at a birthday party.

 

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Indeed, it was the complete elation that burst out of him every time the ball left his foot and found the back of the net that endeared him to many fans, that and his beautiful locks. For those of us raised on Saturday mornings watching Football Italia, Batigol seemed to embody a glamorous world far away from the rainy shores of Britain. The flares, the noise, the Batistuta celebrations that seemed to happen every single week. Just check out the video below and pine for those glory days.

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This passion seemed to fuel a career that traveled at a million miles an hour, speeding through Italian stadiums and collecting match balls along the way. That Gabriel ran on this alone is an idea supported by the following Brian Laudrup quote: “I was watching him in training for the first couple of days and he was one of the worst trainers I’d ever seen – his technique was lousy, his shots were going wide – but then he scored ten goals in the first five or six games and I realised what a player he was.”

If an image is being painted of a man embracing the joys and glories of being a top player in the manner of a sophisticated, existential wine drinker, think again: Gabriel played more like a wild-eyed crack addict. “When I was playing football I never enjoyed it that much, I was never happy … if I scored two goals, I wanted a third, I always wanted more,” he reflected in 2005.

Whatever the manner of his motivation, Batistuta brought joy to millions with his finishing, nowhere more than in Argentina. He is the country’s all-time record scorer, with 54 goals in 77 appearances, an international ratio considerably better than Lionel Messi’s. He also scored 10 goals in 12 World Cup games, the only player to have scored hat tricks at separate World Cups.

A humble and understated character off the pitch, Batigol would no doubt feel uncomfortable being lauded, but his legacy should not be forgotten. In an age of calculated, PR-driven celebrations, it is difficult not to crave seeing Gabi run around like a five-year-old with ADHD one last time. We have a feeling the man himself feels the same.

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