The Confessions of Batistuta
Date: Jan 6th, 1998
The Argentine of Florence presents his testimony in a book that reveals his thoughts about the world of football. In "Yo Batigol cuento a Batistuta" the striker speaks of Passarella, Maradona, River, Boca and the national team. In this exclusive, we bring you a preview.
There is a small town in Santa Fe where everyone becomes angered when they read that Gabriel Batistuta is the Champion from Reconquista. It is Avellaneda. And they have reason to react like this, because it is there that I was born on the first day of February 1969 and lived the first six years of my life. There when from time to time I return, I note the bad humor for having been forgotten. And to those who complain, I respond: Avellaneda and Recoquista are the same people with identical hearts. Beginnings
Football entered my life for the first time with a poster that a friend, Pitti Lorenzini, gave me as a gift. It was of Diego Maradona and was from an edition of El Grafico. I put it on the wall of my room… At 16 years old, I was a boy with few muscles, a little overweight, already weighing 82 kilos. It was not a coincidence that they called me "Gordo." [Fat] And I was also tall.
I began playing football casually, in secondary school. In Argentina, every year, they organized inter-school leagues, and in the school where I studied, ENET, there were true stars in football and basketball. So, with my ability to play, I was accepted in the team, and it soon transformed into the true pride of the school.
I began playing football casually, in secondary school. In Argentina, every year, they organized inter-school leagues, and in the school where I studied, ENET, there were true stars in football and basketball. So, with my ability to play, I was accepted in the team, and it soon transformed into the true pride of the school.Griffa
In Reconquista, I soon began to play in the Grupo Alegria, which was a team of the neighborhood and after in Platense, whose football field was 500 meters from my house. Playing in Platense, they selected me for the juvenile team of Reconquista that arrived at the finals of the Provincial Championship. Our rival was Newell's Old Boys, and we won. It was there where Jorge Griffa saw me for the first time. There were two games and I played very well. But it was a friendly game against the Argentina Juvenile National Team that convinced him of my value. Against us was the brother of Maradona, Hugo, Redondo, and Fabbri. I was the center forward of the Reconquista team. We won 2 to l and I made both goals. In Rosario, Griffa asked me if I would like to play for Newell's. I answered yes, thinking that it had been only a casual chat. I almost forgot about it, when, one day, we got a phone call from Griffa. I didn't know what to do, hoping secretly that my father would say no, that he couldn't imagine me as a football player. However, he was very clear. "If you want to go, then go. But I can't help you with money." And more yet with Griffa: "I am sending Gabriel to you, but you have to make him study." I went to Rosario, made a test, and when I returned, I was not convinced they would sign me. Newell's
My first true coach in Newell's was Marcelo Bielsa [the current coach of the national team], who was a true obsessive when it came to training. At first it didn't go well, and for a reason. I was overweight and slow in my movements. I began playing in the Fourth Special, where Gamboa and Franco also played. Bielsa put me on a diet and when it ended, he brought to me in the room I had under the Newell's stadium, a box of alfajores [filled cookies]. My first year in Newell's was difficult for me and not only because of the training. I was very far from my home.
After the Saturday games or on Sunday morning, the other guys would go home, while Gustavo Masat, from a town near Reconquista, and I remained in Rosario. I was separated from my family and from Irina, who was already my girl friend. There happened a period when Newell's couldn't give me any money. They called me in and said: "Gabriel, you have to do something to earn some money because we don't have a peso." And I got some work cutting the lawn of the gardens around the club.
Bielsa was the most important coach for my formation as a football player. He waited patiently for me because my teammates were much better prepared than I was from the physical point of view. I always was behind. It was he who promoted me to the reserves where I played more than in the third division and, one great day, he catapulted me to the first level among the starters. My debut was incredible—in the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores. Everything was improvised. One Tuesday, I returned from Reconquista and went to training with the reserves. I met a teammate who told me: "Why are you here, run to the stadium where the starting team is training." I thought it was a joke, but it was true. On Monday they had posted my name in the list of those called and I had not seen it. I went to the stadium and trained with the first division and on Sunday debuted against San Martin de Tucuman, on a team populated by substitutes because many starters had been reserved for the Copa Libertadores. I entered in the final 30 minutes. I remained training with Jose Yudica and two days before the game against San Lorenzo, for the Copa, Gabrich was injured. My hour had arrived. We won 1-0. On the following day I saw my photo in El Grafico. It was small, but it was the first of my career. Its title said: "Franco and Batistuta, two great promises."
In June 1989, when I was already playing as a starter on Newell's, Settimio Aloisio bought my pass. The club needed money and had put me on the market along with some other players including Roberto Nestor Sensini. The coach of River, Reinaldo Merlo, asked for my pass. I accepted enthusiastically to move to Buenos Aires, even though it would take me to live 800 kilometers from Reconquista. In Buenos Aires, I knew no one. They told me about an apartment to rent near the Stadium Monumental. In 10 minutes I could arrive at training. In those first days I became friends with Fabian Basualdo, who I would play with again in the national team. He took me to his house, but I wasn't there very long, only long enough to organize my move. From Rosario I returned with one suitcase and a few clothes. Hernan Diaz had accompanied me with his car. I remember how hard it rained and we couldn't see three meters in distance. But he drove the car with great security. At last he asked me where my new apartment was located, and I couldn't remember. I didn't even know the name of the neighborhood. I remembered vaguely a bar and a business nearby. It was in the area near Basualdo's house. I had prepared for the worst, to spend the night in a hotel, but Hernan was braver than I was. First we located Basualdo's house and from there oriented ourselves to my apartment. Passarella Part I
I began well with River, but in December 1989, Merlo left and in his place arrived Daniel Passarella. This began the most difficult period of my football career. We went to Mar del Plata for preseason training, and from the first practice I understood that I would not have an easy life. Passarella divided us into two teams: those who had played with me before he put on one side, and me on the other. It was the first time he put me off and put in my place Medina Bello or Da Silva, who had arrived with him. It got to the extreme that on the evening before the Thursday practice game, I would diet rigidly, and prepare myself psychologically, and on Thursday I always made goals against the starting team. But in those six months I never played, not even one minute [in a league game], the coach never even put me on the substitute's bench. In June, I went to speak with Passarella and announced my decision. I remember only one phrase of his: "Think well, this is River." I had thought for six months. I went on the market. Newell's wanted to get me back at any cost, and Aloisio played on this to take me to Boca. He went to the president of River and told him a lie, that I was going back to Newell's. If he had told the truth that I was going to Boca they would not have let me go. Boca Juniors
At first, my training was a disaster, but in January 1991 Oscar Washington Tabarez "El Maestro" arrived. He understood what was my true position on the field: he put me in the center of the attack, and from those first friendly games on, he never took me out. El Maestro gave me a confidence that I didn't have in the past. I began to score goals and didn't stop. Everything had become easier. Latorre always knew where to place the ball. It was enough to signal with my eyes, and the ball would arrive just where I wanted it. In those six months, Boca won all. And I made goals in succession at Passarella's River Plate. We played a game in Chile that I will never forget. At Colo Colo for the Copa Libertadores. It was a battle. At the end it seemed that we were 20 (including substitutes and coaches) against the entire stadium. It was the first time I saw Tabarez furious. Then the police arrived with their dogs and there was a risk of transforming into a tragedy. Basile
The National Team gave me the chance to meet a man who will always have a place in my heart. It is Alfio Basile. During his tenure, I missed only one game, against Ecuador, but he had good reasons to leave me out. He was a coach who always gave me confidence and courage, and who left me on the team even when I failed to score goals in six games. Maradona
The first times I played with him, I didn't understand. His speed and thinking were supersonic. When he had the ball, I wouldn't make the run because I thought that he wouldn't have time to pass it where I wanted it. And, without fail, the ball arrived just in my preferred place, only I wasn't there by my own fault. In the first two games we didn't function together, but later we did, and it was very enjoyable. In the World Cup , I was on his side because he was our chief, our charismatic leader and the essential point of reference for the national team. Passarella Part II
After the World Cup in the United States, Passarella arrived as national team coach. As coach, I met him for the first time in Florence, in the dressing rooms of Franchi Stadium. He had come to speak with the internationals playing in Europe. When the eliminations for the 1998 World Cup began, I hoped to play some more games. However, in this long tournament to get to France '98, I only played the first round and remained 300 days outside la Seleccion. Final Curtain in Boca
When I imagine my future, I see a family reunited in Reconquista, Thiago and Lucas running cows and horses, my parents watching the grandchildren, Irina teaching in her dance school, and myself finally going fishing and hunting every day. But this is a future in the distance. Some day, when I leave Florence, I would like to play at least one year in England for two reasons. First, because British football makes me enthusiastic, they always play to score goals. And secondly, because it would give me the chance to perfect my English. And at the end, to close my career, I would return to Boca, my team of the past.