Gabriel Omar Batistuta is a former Argentine striker and the current leading scorer for the national team. Batistuta, nicknamed "Batigol" for his scoring abilities, totalled 56 goals in 78 games. He also holds the Argentine record for most goals in World Cup finals, with 10 goals in 12 finals matches. Many of Batistuta's most successful club came in Italy's Serie A, where Batistuta currently sits ninth on the all-time scoring list. Batistuta retired from playing in 2005.
Gabriel Batistuta was born Feb. 1, 1969, in Avellaneda, Argentina. He spent most of his childhood in Reconquista, Sante Fe, where he grew up with his parents and three younger sisters. Batistuta was drawn to the soccer pitch from a young age, and he began playing with a local youth club early on. It was in one of those youth games that Batistuta earned the attention of the scouts from Newell's Old Boys, a first division club in Rosario, Argentina. Playing in a provincial tournament against the Old Boys youth team, Batistuta scored two goals and was handed a spot with the professional side.
His transition to professional football was not easy, though -- saddled with the nickname "El Gordo" because he was overweight as a child, Batistuta received special attention from Newell's manager in regards to his diet and exercise upon arriving in Rosario. Only after a few months of his new regime was the striker ready to join the full team.
Gabriel Batistuta signed his first professional contract with Newell's Old Boys in 1988, when he began playing with the lower divisions and reserve squads of the squad. The striker struggled to find his pace in the new environment, though, and he was sent on loan to Buenos Aires side Deportivo Italiano near the end of the season. There, he was able to travel to Italy for the Carnevale Cup, which ended up a huge opportunity for the striker. He excelled, and three goals in the tournament saw Batistuta grab leading scorer honors and a huge amount of exposure from European clubs.
In June 1989, Batistuta moved from Newell's to Argentina's top club, River Plate. His first months with the squad were hugely successful, the striker scoring 17 goals in a half-season. But when a new coach arrived mid-season, Batistuta was suddenly dropped out of favor and kept out of the starting XI for the rest of the year.
Looking for playing time, Batistuta made a move to Boca Juniors, River Plate's main rivals in the Argentine first division. In 29 games for Boca, the striker managed 13 goals. Batistuta excelled again in the next season, earning top scoring honors in the league, as Boca finished second in the league championship.
But soon Batistuta was on the move again, his impressive numbers at Boca and a strong showing in the 1991 Copa America catching the eyes of several top European clubs. In the end it was Serie A side AC Fiorentina who claimed the striker's signature. He and his family moved to Florence before the 1991-92 season.
Batistuta immediately started out strong, scoring 13 goals in his debut season in Serie A. He topped that total with 16 scores in the following season, but it didn't stop Fiorentina from suffering relegation to Serie B amid huge changes in management and administration. Though most assumed a player as high-profile as Batistuta wouldn't stick around for a season in the second division, Batistuta chose to stay with Fiorentina (and became a club icon in the process). Fiorentina dominated Serie B in the next season, losing only five games on the year, as Batistuta tallied another 16 goals. They were promoted back after only one season in the second division.
In his first season back in Serie A, Batistuta started the year out by breaking a 30-year-old record after scoring in 11 straight matches to open the season. He went on to finish top scorer in Serie A with 26 goals. The next year, in 1995-96, Batistuta won his first hardware with Fiorentina, as the club took a domestic double with the Italian Cup and Super Coppa. After a few more years, though, Batistuta was considering leaving for a club that could challenge for the Italian league championship. The Fiorentina managers convinced him that the Scudetto would be top priority in the 1998-99 season.
Batistuta decided to stay to challenge for the title, and Fiorentina led the table for much of the year. But an injury to Batistuta that kept the striker out for a month coincided with a late drop in the league for the club. Fiorentina did manage to finish third, though, the highest since Batistuta joined -- and which qualified the side for Champions League play the next season.
Batistuta stayed with Fiorentina again to compete in Europe, but the 1999-2000 season was disappointing on both fronts. Fiorentina dropped to seventh place in the league and were eliminated in the second group stage of the Champions League, and Batistuta was set to leave the club at the end of the year. It was eventually AS Roma that grabbed the striker's signature in a deal worth 35 million dollars in 2000. Batistuta left Fiorentina with 217 goals in 269 games during his nine-year Firenze career, and they rewarded the striker by erecting a life-size bronze statue of the player in 1996.
Batistuta had left Fiorentina to compete for the Scudetto, so the timing was perfect when he and Roma were able to take the title in his first season with the club in 2000-01. Despite a knee injury that kept Batistuta out of play for several games, he still finished leading scorer with 20 goals. In fact, the striker changed his number to 20 in his second season with Roma, in honor of his tally in the Scudetto-winning campaign. In 2001-02, Roma came close to repeating as champions but finished second to Juventus.
Having dropped his level of play slightly in the previous campaign, Batistuta was loaned to Inter Milan for the 2002-03 season to see if he could regain his scoring touch. But the move did little to improve the striker's form, and the switch lasted only a year. After his 12 years in Serie A, Batistuta holds the record as the ninth-highest scorer in its history, with 184 goals in 318 matches.
In 2003, Batistuta completed a "money move" to Al-Arabi, a local club in Qatar, to finish out his career. There, despite fighting a knee injury through the next few years, Batistuta finished top scorer in all Arab leagues in 2004, his 23 goals earning him the Golden Boot and breaking a league record. Batistuta announced his retirement from club football on March 13, 2005, midway through his second season with Al-Arabi.
International/World Cup Experience
Gabriel Batistuta made his Argentine national debut in a friendly in 1991, only a few weeks before the start of South America's major international finals, the Copa America. Batistuta remained in the team for the Copa finals, but his advanced performances surprised even his most loyal supporters. With six goals in five games in the tournament, Batistuta was the Copa's leading scorer and notched a tally that included Argentina's winner in the final against Colombia. It was Argentina's first South American title since 1959, and Batistuta immediately became a national hero.
The squad earned another finals title in the first Confederations Cup in 1992, Batistuta scoring four goals in the two games, and Argentina beat Saudi Arabia in the finals. In 1993, the squad reported to Ecuador for another Copa America, Batistuta's second. The Argentines were able to repeat as champions -- in large part to Batistuta, who scored two second-half goals to down Mexico, 2-1, in the finals.
The 1994 FIFA World Cup finals in the United States were next up for the Argentine team, and Batistuta opened the tournament by scoring a hat-trick against Greece in the first group match. His next goal came in Argentina's Round of 16 match, but it wasn't enough to save the team from a 3-2 defeat to the Romanian side.
The Confederations Cup brought a runners-up finish to Batistuta and Argentina in 1995, and they reached only the quarterfinals -- losing to arch-rivals Brazil -- in the Copa America only a few months later. They saw the same fate in 1997, this time falling to Peru in the quarterfinals.
In the run-up to the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals, Batistuta found himself outside of the squad's roster more and more frequently. New manager Daniel Passarella was not a fan of Batistuta's and, despite his impressive club form, kept him out of most of Argentina's matches. Though the striker did feature in the finals -- scoring five goals in the process -- his spot was never safe.
Batistuta scored the second hat trick of his finals career against Jamaica in the group stages, becoming only the fourth player to hat trick twice in the World Cup (and the first to do so in two different finals). Batistuta also found net against England and in the squad's first match of the finals, a 1-0 win against Japan. But Argentina again found it impossible to get past the quarterfinals, losing 2-1 to the Netherlands.
Another quarterfinal loss to Brazil in the 1999 Copa America and the Argentine's choice to pull out of the competition in 2001 due to security concerns meant Batistuta's next chance for a trophy came in the 2002 World Cup, which he announced would be his final competition for Argentina. Though many believed Batistuta's best days were behind him, the coach selected the striker in the starting XI for most of the finals matches -- which turned out to be fewer than expected.
Argentina were drawn into the "group of death" for the 2002 finals and were knocked out in the opening round for the first time since 1962. Batistuta did score once -- in the opener against Nigeria, his third straight goal in Argentina's first match -- to bring his World Cup finals tally to 10, a record for the Argentine team. Batistuta served as captain in the final match of his career, the last group game against Sweden.
In all, Batistuta scored 56 goals in 78 matches for Argentina, the highest tally in the country's history. The tally is also 20 more than the second-highest scorer, Hernan Crespo. Batistuta also holds the record for most goals in a World Cup finals, with 10 scores in 12 games.
Gabriel Baptistuta moved to Perth, Australia, following his retirement from football. He was linked with a takeover of the Australian A-League club Perth Glory just months after his move in 2006, but another buyer eventually took the club.
He completed his coaching badges in Argentina after retiring and has been sought after for several positions in Argentina and the Middle East, but he has said that he is not yet ready for the challenge of coaching and needs several more years away from the game. He has said the only two jobs he would definitely accept would be coach of the national team of Argentina or of Australia.
Gabriel Baptistuta is married to Irina Fernandez, whom he met when he was 15 years old. The couple met at her quinceanera in 1985, and they were married five years later, on Dec. 28, 1990. They had their first child two years later. The couple now have three sons: Thiago, born in 1992; Lucas, born in 1997, and Joaquin, born in 1999.
In his spare time, Baptistuta has found a love of a new sport since retiring: polo. Baptistuta owns a team in Argentina, La Gloria Polo Team (whose colors and badge are based on those of Fiorentina). Baptistuta had enjoyed riding horses growing up in Argentina but didn't start playing polo until he was playing in Italy, when he would play with friends when visiting Argentina.
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