Gabriel Batistuta – The Legend of ‘Batigol’
What does the colour purple mean to you? Does it bring back memories of watching children enamoured by a giant, and slightly terrifying, toy dinosaur? A well-known juice brand made the phrase “some purple stuff” almost as recognisable as their own and the rainfall from Prince’s 1980’s power ballad wouldn’t have been anywhere near as emotive had the downpour been green or blue.
The above have obviously come to mind but for me the colour purple means Fiorentina. The most striking flash across a vivid Italian landscape painted by television coverage of the Serie A during the nineties. For my then young eyes, purple was different, I don’t think I had ever seen a team play in purple before, nowadays it’s almost a shade of the mundane but back then it was magical and the most identifiable figure in that iconic hue was striker and captain Gabriel Batistuta.
He was a striking cheat code. At 6”2 his presence demanded attention but he was also deceptively swift. In front of goal he worked hard and rarely missed, the ball always struck with a sweet brutality that only the true elite possess. His headed leaps were majestic and seemed to last forever while he was blessed with a physical charm that would make even the most hard-nosed of Florentine ultras swoon.
The Argentine had traveled to Florence in 1991 following spells with three of his homeland’s biggest sides and would make an immediate impact in his debut season scoring 13 times and quickly marking himself out as a fearsome striking presence. He would follow that on with a further 16 in the next campaign but as he was making his mark in Italy’s top flight, his club would slip out of it via relegation.
A fast and firm bond had already been formed though and despite interest from some of Italy’s biggest sides, Batistuta would stay to lead the promotion charge in 93/94 with Fiorentina making an immediate return following the capture of the Serie B title.
The legend of Batigol had started to gather pace and he would claim the Capocannoniere, the Italian Golden Boot, the following year as FIorentina finished 10th, Batistuta scoring 26 of his side’s 61 goals including a record breaking run in which he scored in each of his side’s opening eleven league fixtures. His loyalty and formidable on pitch presence meant that the captaincy had long since been secured and the image of a celebratory Batistuta dressed in purple with a band wrapped snugly around his bicep on top of a baggy shirt bellowing in the breeze would remain a frequent sight as the decade continued.
The 1995/96 season would be Fiorentina’s most successful during Batistuta’s spell. In the league they would finish 4th whilst he would lead his side to a fifth ever Coppa Italia. Following early round victories over Ascoli, Lecce and Palermo Fiorentina were drawn to face Inter Milan in the semi-finals.
In the first leg, as fireworks and flares illuminated the stands of a packed Stadio Artemio Franchi, it would be Batistuta that would assert his dominance on the tie. First an authoritative strike from the spot after trusted forward partner Francisco Baiano was taken down. The second a deft lob into the opposing corner after he peeled off his penalty box marker before a third which saw a counter end with a cute outside of the boot effort under the body of Italian international Gianluca Pagliuca.
In a second leg where i Viola keeper Francesco Toldo kept wave after wave of Inter attack at bay it would be Batistuta that would put the tie beyond doubt getting on the end of a through ball from Baiano before chipping Pagliuca from the edge of the area. Everyone watching expected the Argentine to go for power, including me 24 years later, and even now it is a ridiculous finish.
In the final against Atalanta, another two-legged affair, Gabriel Batistuta would be the difference maker again. During an opening leg played in sodden conditions he would take his predatory instincts to the edge of the area, contorting his body in such a way to generate enough power and loop to score the only of the game.
In the second leg in Bergamo central defender Lorenzo Amoruso would open the scoring for the visitors with an exquisite volley off his own but Batistuta would deliver the crowning moment in emphatic fashion smashing the ball home from close range following a scramble in the Atlanta area.
Outside of the Serie B title, it would be Batistuta’s only major honour during his time in Italy. He would continue his prolific ways for Fiorentina until the turn of the millenium, eventually notching 203 times from just 331 appearances making him Fiorentina’s all time leading scorer in Serie A, before spells at Roma (where he scored against his former side during an emotional return), Inter Milan and then in the Qatari Stars League would bring an end to his playing career.
In some ways it’s a shame that such a gifted player would retire with such a meagre haul but in others it forms part of his enduring charm. In a city where perhaps the world’s most famous exhibitionist stands proud in Michaelangelo’s David it is a life size bronze statue found under the shadows of the Artemio Franchi that football fans continue to flock to. The subject, Gabriel Batistuta.
Internationally only Messi and Maradona supersede him. He is Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer at the World Cup and the only player of any nationality to score a hat trick at more than one with discussions around all time XI’s and Hall of Fames both in Argentina and in Florence incomplete without his name. He is a footballer that would thrive in the modern age but, whatever memories you hold of the Argentine, for me he will always be remembered for doing it best in purple.