Among football nostalgists and Italophiles, Gabriel Batistuta is among the most revered strikers in the history of the game.
But for someone with his talent, goalscoring record, aura and reputation, he had a surprisingly modest record in the Champions League.
And yet, does it matter when he produced goals like he did in the 1999/2000 edition of the competition, and mainly against English opposition?
It started against Arsenal, lashing in that extraordinary effort at Wembley as the Gunners failed to make very much of being at Wembley, going out in the first group stage in a pool that also featured Barcelona.
And then in the second group stage – because UEFA decided to get funky that year – he produced some more brilliance against Manchester United – twice.
“In Florence Roy Keane made an untypical, terrible backpass, which he intercepted and lashed home,” said Duncan Alexander on the Totally Football Show this week, “and then at Old Trafford – he hits it so hard from about 35 yards, and this was the era where balls didn’t move much, they were a bit heavier, but it moves all over the place and flies into the net.
“He really was incredible this season, but rarely did anything in the competition afterwards. He played in 11 games for Roma in 2001/02 and didn’t score. This really was the one flowering season of Batistuta in the Champions League.”
Fitness concerns that were in the post may have been a factor, as James Richardson pointed out: “His legs were giving him so much pain, he said later he’d rather have them amputated. He managed to drive Roma to the Serie A title the following season, but I think it’s fair to say in Europe he wasn’t by any means as effective.”
But still: those goals. “He was scoring 0.7/0.8 goals per game, in a time when defences were more dominant,” said Alvaro Romeo. “Football was different in the early 2000s, and Italian football was the epitome of that. He managed to be the most consistent scorer.”
It’s easy to forget that alongside Batistuta, that Fiorentina team was absolutely stuffed with talent: they had Predrag Mijatovic, Abel Balbo, Enrico Chiesa and Rui Costa backing them all up.
“They were one of those teams that you don’t forget,” said Alvaro, before reminding us that Mijatovic’s form was impacted by factors outside of football. “We have to remember that his son, Luca, was in the hospital at that time, and Mijatovic couldn’t focus in his football career and show all his talent because he had to be with his son.”
Still, for all of that talent, arguably their best goal came from a player who few of us remember. Mauro Bressan was a moderate, journeyman midfielder whose two-year spell at Fiorentina was the high point of his career, and indeed at the end of his playing time was implicated in a match-fixing scandal.
But he’ll always have this…
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