Recently, BT Sport resurrected the iconic Channel 4 Golazzo for a one-off special documentary, inviting James Richardson to reminisce with some familiar faces over what was a classic time in Italian footballing history. To usher in their new film, BT did the worst thing any broadcaster can do and allowed the fans to vote for their ultimate Serie A eleven of the 1990s. Because, let’s face it, when has entrusting the British public with deciding something important ever gone wrong?
In twice-daily polls, fans were allowed to vote from any one of four iconic players for each position – bizarrely lining up in some narrow 4-2-2-2 devoid of wingers – and duly proceeded to butcher what could have been a beautiful spectacle.
And there we have it!
After 120,000 votes, you’ve picked your Serie A Team of the 90s 🙌
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 30, 2018
Now, we can forgive Buffon making the goalkeeper spot ahead of Pagliuca and Toldo, and we can just about stomach seeing Cannavaro edge out Baresi and Costacurta; but in what has to be the greatest betrayal of footballing justice since Kenny Dalglish referred to Luis Suarez as “a nice lad, really”, Gabriel Batistuta somehow, inex-fucking-plicably managed to miss out on a spot in the starting eleven.
Gabriel. Batistuta. That’s 168-goal, 1995 golden boot-winning, Argentina second all-time top goal-scorer Gabriel Batistuta we’re talking about.
So, having wiped the froth from our mouths and finished mashing the keyboard in utter rage, we look at why Batistuta is not just Serie A’s striker of the decade, but perhaps the greatest striker of any decade.
Don your Fiorentina shirts, brush out your locks and prepare to bellow “BATIGOL!” at the top of your lungs to the surprise of your neighbours.
Not only did he score lots of goals, he scored lots of great goals
During Batistuta’s tenure at Fiorentina in the ‘90s, he registered 168 league goals, 26 Coppa Italia goals, seven UEFA Cup goals and six Champions League goals.
That’s a lotta goals. More than Ronaldo, more than Vieri, more than Signori, more than Inzaghi, more than Crespo, more than Baggio, more than Del Piero … you get the picture.
However, what set Batigol apart from the other strikers of his generation was the manner in which he scored his goals. Sure, a goal is a goal, and our long-haired crusader wasn’t afraid of a tap-in, but watch any highlight reel of Batistuta’s and you’ll find it crammed full of 30-yard thunder-bastards, deft lobs, acrobatic volleys, towering headers and unstoppable free-kicks – including that indirect free-kick from all of six yards out that attained such a velocity it threatened to behead anyone who stood in the way.
Simply put, if there was a goal to be scored, you can be certain Batistuta would score it, and would score it emphatically. He was as feared a striker as living memory can recall.
His international record is beyond comparison
Lionel Messi was always destined to capture the crown of his country’s top goalscorer. That was never in doubt. However, whereas the pintsize Barcelona ace has struck more times for his country, his goal-scoring rate is nowhere near Batistuta’s.
56 goals from 78 games (a ratio of 0.72) remains bettered only by Iran’s Ali Daei in post-war football. And it’s not as if Batistuta was padding out his numbers by sticking six goals apiece past the likes of Andorra, St Kitts and Nevis, Narnia and Mordor (FYI, Sauron loves a professional foul).
Of Batistuta’s 56 international goals, a staggering 23 were in major tournaments, including 10 in 12 games at the three World Cups he attended.
Interestingly, he’s the only player in World Cup history to score hat-tricks at two different tournaments, the unlucky recipients being Jamaica and Greece. Stick that in your pipe, Miroslav Klose!
He was the footballer we all wanted to be
Ronaldo was more glamorous, Baggio was more stylish, Zidane was more fashionable, but anybody who was anybody on the playground dreamt of emulating Gabriel Batistuta. An entire generation of children in the United Kingdom were smashing tatty old footballs through goalposts marked by jumpers while Peter Brackley’s voice exclaimed “Batistuta!” in their heads.
With his mane of hair, his machine gun celebrations and the child-like glee with which he would smash a ball really, really hard, he resonated with the purest of football fans around the world.
Yet this footballing titan couldn’t have been any more different off the pitch than he was on it. In a world of increasing celebrity, Batistuta was as painfully average as you or I. He married his childhood sweetheart, runs his own ranch in retirement and is rarely heard from in the media.
In fact, such his post-football anonymity that when he paid the Argentina national team before a match in 2017, many of the current players barely recognised him.
Of his visit, Batistuta said,
“I went into the dressing room to say hello and only half of them gave me the time of day … I would have liked a better reception, not for who I am, but because I played there and was in that dressing room.”
So, while the people of Great Britain – and amazingly the actual Argentina national team – failed miserably in recognising the genius of one of the most lethal strikers in football history, here at Tales we’ll keep the purple and white Batigol flag flying high.
You can keep your Ronaldos and your Baggios because for us, there was only one striker to whom the 1990s belonged.