This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every day of the week to a transfer that marked its time in its own way. For this 18th episode, back to the summer of 2000. Gabriel Batistuta was the idol of Florence, the king of a city and a people. But after nine years of romance, he had to make a choice: finish his career in Florence and risk winning nothing, or go to Roma to finally win the trophy he deserved. And the Argentinian will make the choice of reason.
Few people have a very precise memory of the 1991 Copa América. However, it was the scene of a personal performance which, somewhere, will mark the history of football. Indeed, a player will walk on the competition. A certain Gabriel Batistuta. At the time, there weren’t many people. The kid wandered from Newell’s to River Plate without success, before finding a base in Boca, where he scored 13 goals in a season. Not necessarily breathtaking, but enough for the Argentinian coach, Alfio Basile, to decide to take him to Chile for the Copa América. Batistuta has never worn the jersey before.Albiceleste, but will not be long in talking about him, planting a double as soon as Argentina enters the competition, against Venezuela. The start of the Batigol tornado. It’s simple: the player will shake the net in every game, except during the 0-0 against Chile. 6 games, 6 goals: Argentina wins the Copa América, and Batistuta is crowned top scorer of the tournament. This personal performance reaches the ears of Mario Cecchi Gori, the president of Fiorentina, who decides to bring the striker to Florence in exchange for 12 billion lira, the equivalent of 6.2 million euros. The shot of a lifetime.
Irina, I love you
In Florence, Batistuta will become king. After the first years of adaptation marked in particular by a relegation in 1993, the Argentinian striker will really explode from the 1994-1995 season, that of the return to Serie A. Batigol scores 26 goals in the league, at a time when the defenses Italy are at their peak and where local scorers are struggling to exceed the 20-goal mark. Batistuta, he shows a formidable efficiency and above all a crazy consistency. He scores all the time, from all positions, against all opponents. At the end of the 1995-1996 season, he finally won his first trophy: the Italian Cup, won against Atalanta. Needless to say, he scored in the first leg final (1-0) and in the return final (2-0). A few weeks later, Fiorentina also won the Italian Supercup, beating AC Milan of Maldini, Baresi and Weah. After having a cold captain Baresi on the opener, he slams a superb free kick for the winning goal, before going to shout his love to his wife Irina, facing the camera. An image that has gone around the world.
Captain of his team, charismatic at will, Batigol will also start to make people talk about him in Europe, with some memorable goals. During the 1996-1997 Cup Cup, he notably delivered an epic confrontation against Barça de Ronaldo in the semi-finals. Whistled by the Camp Nou during the first leg semi-final, he air-conditioned the stadium with a monumental strike under the bar, before silencing the Catalan supporters with a finger on the mouth. Suspended on the return, he will not be able to prevent the defeat of his team.
It doesn’t matter: all of Florence is now behind him, and the leaders are doing the best they can to build a team at his height. And so it was that in the summer of 1998, Cecchi Gori convinced Giovanni Trapattoni to take on Fiorentina. With the Trap, Batistuta and Fiorentina take a step forward. During the first half of the season, the Argentinian scored 17 goals in 17 games, and the formation violated is crowned fall champion. But an injury at the very beginning of the return phase will prevent him from being at his top level during the final rush. Fiorentina give ground and are caught by Milan and Lazio. The Florentines are content with third place, and Batistuta with the silver medal for scorers, being beaten at the post by Marcio Amoroso.
Leaving Florence with a heavy heart
During the 1999-2000 season, Batistuta continued to be the beacon of his team. For his first participation in the Champions League, he made an impression with mad goals against Manchester United, or at Wembley against Arsenal.
“I want to play and win, and with Fiorentina there are things I no longer share. I think it’s right to change, to stop suffering. » Gabriel Batistuta
But the conclusion is always the same: in Florence, Batistuta seems doomed to never win. Thanks in particular to her goals and her performances, her team always does well, regularly ranks at the top of the table, but always falls on stronger than her. First rumors of departure start to turn in the streets of Florence. Batistuta would be tired of playing supporting roles and seems to have lost the flame. On May 14, 2000, when Lazio were crowned champions after a crazy day, Batistuta scored a hat-trick against Venice, which enabled him to become the top scorer in the history of the Florentine club, ahead of Kurt Hamrin (152 to 151). On his last goal, he burst into tears, lying in the goal. The public understood. At the end of the meeting, his words are unambiguous: “I will never say what bothered me here. Me, I want to play and win, and with Fiorentina there are things I no longer share. I think it’s right to change, to stop suffering. » End of romance.
The days that followed, it is obviously the effervescence. Where will Batistuta sign? The Italian newspapers of the time put him on the front page almost daily, with dubious montages where he was decked out in all possible jerseys. Three clubs seem to hold the rope: Lazio, freshly crowned champion, Inter de Moratti, who dreams of an association with Vieri, and Roma de Franco Sensi, now guided by Fabio Capello. Cecchi Gori has a special relationship with Sensi, so much so that he once said: “If I have to sell Batistuta one day, I will sell him to Roma. » Batigol, he knows he must not be mistaken. He is now 31 years old, his knees are hurting him, and he knows he may have two more seasons at the top level. So, if he finally wants to win, he must make the right choice. That of the reason, and not of the heart. This choice was finally recorded on May 23, 2000. After seven hours of negotiations at Roma headquarters, the player’s agent, Settimio Aloísio, and the managers romanisti agree… but do not formalize yet. « We’re there, it’s almost done, only the signature is missing, which Gabriel could affix in Argentinaassures the agent. We cannot yet give the formalization for technical problems, but there is only Roma. » During the 15 days that followed, the tifosi of Roma trembled. Total radio silence from the player, on vacation in Argentina. The fear of a failed transaction is very real. But on June 5, the long-awaited announcement arrives: Batistuta is a new Roma player. The figures make you dizzy for the time: 72 billion lire in the coffers of Fiorentina, or some 37 million euros. Never had such a sum been spent on a player over 30 years old.
“I chose Roma because it seems to me that at the moment they are the team with the most serious short-term work plan. Above all, it is the one that gives me the ideal conditions to be able to give the best of myself in the last years of my career. » Gabriel Batistuta
Score against his ex
The next day, June 6, there were nearly 13,000 at the stadium to welcome the Re Leone. Batigol’s first words as a Roma player are clear and precise: “I came here to win. » Then, in a press conference, he unfolds. “I chose Roma because it seems to me that at the moment they are the team with the most serious short-term work plan. Above all, it is the one that gives me the ideal conditions to be able to give the best of myself in the last years of my career. I don’t come to Rome to command or be king. I come to join a group. I can say that the contract, the money, the expenses made for me are not « normal », let’s say, but it makes me very proud, because I am 31 years old, and betting so much on a player of my age does not was not easy. The president of Roma made a bet, and I want to thank him with goals. »
And to thank him, we can say that he will thank him. Associated with Totti and Vincenzo Montella on the front of the Roman attack, Batistuta will continue on his Florentine momentum, scoring straight away with regularity. He scored his first two goals on the second day of the championship, a 4-0 victory at Lecce. Then the first pawn at the stadio Olimpico, on October 22, during a 3-1 success against Vicenza. Roma is already a war machine. After seven days, the record is six wins and one defeat, with already 19 goals scored, including 8 by Batistuta alone. And on the eighth day, here is the clash: Roma-Fiorentina. The Batigol game. The player finds his former teammates, but above all the club he still loves deeply. And inevitably, what had to happen happened… As we head for a good old 0-0, Batistuta comes out of his box at 83e minute, by sending a bag to the 25 meters which is lodged under the bar of Toldo. The Stadio Olimpico explodes, like all Roma players. Only one player remains marble: Batistuta. While all his teammates jump on him, he remains impassive. Overwhelmed by the emotion of his past, he breaks down and even drops a few tears that say a lot about his feelings.
During this 2000-2001 season, Batistuta will score a total of 20 league goals and will finally win the Scudetto he had so dreamed of. It was he, moreover, who planted the very last goal of the season, on June 17, 2001 against Parma, in an Olimpico all committed to his cause. This title, won at the age of 32, will be the last great thrill of his career. His knees are already hurting him terribly, and the following seasons, the striker slowly begins to take the ramp to retirement. After a stint of a few months at Inter, he will end his career in Qatar, with the feeling of accomplishment and, above all, of having made the right choice at the right time. And the strongest thing is that in Florence, no one blames him.
By Eric Maggiori