Gabriel Omar Batistuta is without a doubt one of the best Argentinean strikers we have ever seen. His amazing area play and a great shot make him a natural goal scorer.
Women also loved him in his prime, as he was considered one of the most handsome soccer players of his generation.
During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I spent time with Batistuta on several occasions. We were both staying at a hotel in Sandton, in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was part of a team promoting Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup, which they would obtain a few months later.
Batistuta walked with a limp (rengueaba, as Argentineans would say). His ankles were destroyed by the time he ended his career. “I don’t play soccer anymore, I play polo,” he said.
He would drink coffee at the hotel lobby every morning. Sometimes he would be there with Christian, an Australian friend from Perth, the city where “El Bati” moved after his career was over. I grew up watching him play. He was a giant in Fiorentina, an underdog team that captured the Italian soccer world’s attention because of his skill.
The first time I met him I asked him for an interview, but he refused. He said that it had been years since he had last talked to the media and that an Australian television channel had even offered him a large amount of money that he refused because his decision had nothing to do with money.
We became familiar with each other after meeting on several occasions in the shuttle to the Soccer City Stadium. I particularly remember the Netherlands-Denmark match. On the way to the stadium, I felt confident enough to confess that his goals had once made me the saddest boy in the world. “Why?” he asked. “Because it was your fault that we lost the 1993 Copa América in Ecuador,” I answered. “It wasn’t my fault, it was the Mexican defense’s, they were terrible at marking. Do you remember how they marked on the hand throw-in?” Of course I remembered. I still do, like a repeated image sequence playing in my mind.
El Bati cuts the defense and advances toward the center and then shoots to Campo’s second post.
We lost 2-1 that night in Guayaquil.
“It was the only game we won,” Batistuta remembered. “We tied every single game in the first round and we defeated Brasil and Colombia in penalty kicks in the playoffs. That is why I celebrated those goals so much. It was the only victory we had.”
There was big excitement in Mexico after that Copa América. It was the first time Mexico measured against the South American teams, and we fared pretty well despite the loss. Since then, the same excitement and illusion continues for Mexicans, but we still haven’t been able to win the cup. Batistuta, after all, can be hated.