Who is Gabriel Batistuta - The Fiorentina Legend
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Who is Gabriel Batistuta
In February of 1969, Gabriel Batistuta was born to secretary Gloria Zilli and slaughterhouse worker Omar Batistuta, the only son and the oldest of 4. He was born in the town of Avellaneda, in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina, but he grew up in the nearby city of Reconquista. At the young age of 16, Batistuta met his future wife Irina Fernandez at her quinceañera, a rite of passage on her 15th birthday. They married in 1990, soon after his career in football began.
Where it all began…
As a tall child, Batistuta was not particularly interested in football, preferring to play basketball instead. However, Mario Kempes’ impressive performance in Argentina’s 1978 FIFA World Cup victory caught his attention. Batistuta began playing football with his friends and in the small Grupo Alegria club, before joining the local Platense junior team. There, he was selected for the Reconquista team that would later win the provincial championship following a victory against Newell’s Old Boys. Batistuta, having scored two goals in the victorious match, drew the attention of the opposition team’s coach Marcelo Bielsa, and he signed with the team in 1988.
Batistuta struggled to adapt in his first year with the club. He was away from his family, his home, and his girlfriend. He was sleeping in a room at the stadium and felt miserable. To make matters worse, Batistuta was overweight and struggling to keep up with the rest of the team. At the end of the year, he was loaned out to a smaller team, Deportivo Italiano, with whom he participated in the Carnevale Cup in Italy, ending as top scorer with three goals.
Despite Batistuta’s initial problems on the team, manager Bielsa had faith in him – pushing him to lose weight by putting him on a strict diet and workout regime. It is no surprise that Batistuta went on to credit the coach as “the one who taught [him] how to train on rainy days, [who] taught [him] everything.” Bielsa played a huge role in transforming Batistuta into the most prolific goal scorer of the Nineties in Italy’s Serie A.
In 1989, Batistuta made the decision to leave Newell’s Old Boys, instead joining one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, River Plate. There, he scored 17 goals, but was inexplicably drawn out of the team when Daniel Passarella took over coaching the team mid-season. Despite the decision to drop him, it was clear that coach Passarella saw something in Batistuta when he remarked: “When Batistuta finds a team that is able to play to him, he will be lethal.”
It just so happened that the team in question, where he would first find the goal-scoring form that made him famous, were River Plate’s arch-rivals, Boca Juniors. He was signed to the team in 1990, but was initially pushed out of his usual position due to his pace. In 1991, Óscar Tabárez took over as Boca Juniors' new manager, moving the young prodigy back into his best position as a centre-forward. Batistuta was back on form, scoring 13 times for Boca in the 1991 Clausura championships and securing the title.
His performance saw him called up for the Copa America championships in Chile in the summer of 1991. Despite having only claimed a modest twenty goals across three seasons thus far, Batistuta’s skills on the pitch were clear during the tournament. He scored 6 goals in 6 games, including a header against Brazil in Argentina’s 3-2 victory and the winning goal in the final against Colombia. The vice-president of Fiorentina was impressed by his skills and decided to sign him to the team.
His debut season in Serie A saw him score a remarkable 13 goals. However, the following season saw Fiorentina demoted to Serie B – despite 16 league goals from Batistuta – after losing a relegation battle. After just one season in Serie B, the team earned the title, and thus, regained their place in Serie A – once again, with a contribution of 16 goals from Batistuta.
During his time with Fiorentina, Batistuta was on top form. He finished the 1994/95 Serie A season as the top scorer with 26 goals, breaking Ezio Pascutti’s 32-year-old record by scoring in all of the first 11 matches. The following season saw the team go on a 15-match winning streak, with Batistuta, Rui Costa and Francesco Baiano playing a key role in securing the team’s 4th place league title. Fiorentina then went on to win the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana over A.C. Milan.
The next season saw Fiorentina finish in a disappointing 9th place in the league. Despite reaching the semi-finals of the 1996/97 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, they were defeated by eventual champions Barcelona. Despite such a disappointing season, Batistuta went on to score over 20 league goals in each of the next three – making him, along with Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, one of the top strikers in Serie A. This is an especially remarkable feat, given that Serie A was the strongest league in the world at that time, and the hardest to score in, with the best defences. It is no surprise, then, that Batistuta came third for FIFA World Player of the Year in 1999.
Despite this, Batistuta – disappointed with the team’s failure to win the Italian championship – began to consider a transfer to a bigger team. In an effort to keep the player, the team hired new coach Giovanni Trapattoni, promising to do everything in their power to win the Scudetto. Tempted by this as well as the chance to win the Champions league, Batistuta stayed with the club for the 1999/2000 season. But, despite a promising start in both competitions, the team only reached 7th place in the league, being eliminated in the second round group phase of the European tournament.
Batistuta left Fiorentina as one of the team’s greats, having a life-size bronze statue in his likeness erected by fans in Florence, and later being inducted into the club’s hall of fame in 2014. The following season, he transferred to Roma in a deal worth €36.2 million – at the time, the highest fee ever paid for a player over 30.
During the 2000/01 season, Batistuta won a Serie A medal after scoring 20 league goals, and pushed his team to winning the Scudetto for the first time since 1983. In November 2000, Batistuta was forced to play a league game against his old team, Fiorentina. Before the match, he ran over to and saluted the 3,000 Fioerentina fans – and did the same again at full time – receiving Fiorentina fans’ adoration. When he scored the winning goal against Fiorentina, Batistuta was visibly upset, refusing to celebrate with his Roma teammates. An ode to his loyalty, Sean Ingle, match reporter for The Guardian, wrote, “Batistuta breaks Florentine hearts, and his own.”
At age 34, Batistuta was loaned out to Inter Milan, scoring two goals over 12 matches. He sought a transfer to Fulham, in England, but the deal never arose. Instead, he moved to Qatar in 2003, joining Al-Arabi in a deal worth $8 million. With 25 goals, he broke the record for most goals scored on the team – a record previously held by Qatari Mansour Muftah. Batistuta eventually announced his retirement in 2005.
Appearances: 1 / Goals: - / Assists: -
Argentine Primera Division
Appearances: 12 / Goals: 6 / Assists: -
Newell’s Old Boys
Appearances: 4 / Goals: 1 / Assists: -
Appearances: 331 / Goals: 203 / Assists: 3
Appearances: 87 / Goals: 33 / Assists: 9
Appearances: 12 / Goals: 2 / Assists: -
2x Copa América top scorer
FIFA Confederations Cup top scorer:
Serie A top scorer
Coppa Italia Top Scorer
2x FIFA XI
FIFA World Cup Silver Shoe
Argentine Player of the Year
ESM Team of the Year
Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year
FIFA World Player of the Year: Bronze Award
Ballon d'Or: 1998 (6th place), 1999 (4th place), 2000 (7th place)
Qatari League top Scorer
Italian Football Hall of Fame
A.S. Roma Hall of Fame
AFA Team of All Time
Fiorentina Hall of Fame
Fiorentina All-time XI
Fiorentina All-time top scorer in Serie A
During their time on the Fiorentina squad, Batistuta and Rui Costa worked together with Francesco Baiano to secure a 4th place league title after a 15-match winning streak.
Together, Gabriel Batistuta and Javier Zanetti were inducted into the Pachuca International Soccer Hall of Fame.
Where Is He Now?
Having been a keen horseman from an early age, Batistuta decided to take up polo at the elite level, and in 2009, he secured the Copa Stella Artois with the Tom Tailor Team. However, years of physical exertion during his footballer years left him with a chronic ankle problem that forced him to cut short his polo career and pursue a more sedentary lifestyle post-football.
He is a keen golfer and plays regularly, also organising charity tournaments to help a hospital in the city where he grew up. In 2016, he joined Fox Sports’ team to commentate the Champions League final between Real and Atletico Madrid. But his reticent style drew much social media criticism, and he has not since returned to the studio.
In 2014, he separated from his teenage sweetheart Irina, after 30 years together, but wanting to protect their three children, neither has spoken of the separation. Batistuta has otherwise maintained a quiet lifestyle, staying out of the media. However, the iconic player could make a return to football. In May 2017, it emerged that Australian A-League team Adelaide United had made an offer to the Argentinian.