Friday 07 July 2017, 16:07

Batistuta: I lived and breathed football

  • Argentina’s second-highest goalscorer in history

  • Batigolspoke to FIFA 1904 about Higuain, Messi and his love for the game

  • “I have difficulty walking now because I gave more than I had to give”

Twenty-four years ago, Gabriel Batistuta scored a brace that gave Argentina their last senior international title, as La Albiceleste defeated Mexico 2-1 in the final of the 1993 Copa America. “It’s amazing we haven’t won anything since then,” the former frontman said of his country’s long trophy drought.

Though long since retired at 48, Batigol still follows the game and has a lot of empathy for the players, not least his fellow strikers, as he explained in this interview with FIFA 1904.

The likes of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have come in for a lot of criticism in Argentina. What’s your view on that? They’ve had a lot of bad luck, especially Higuain. He missed key chances in the three finals (the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ Final). I say it’s bad luck because he was the one who created those three opportunities. It’s not like a team-mate did everything and left him through on goal. His bad luck was that he didn’t put those chances away. Against Germany, for example, he only messed up in front of goal after he’d latched on to a loose ball because he was alert and tuned in, because he did everything a No9 has to do. He did everything right, apart from putting the ball away. If it had happened in another match or in the group phase, nobody would have said anything. In fact, we’d have all praised him for creating the chance in the first place.

What would you say to Higuain? The same thing I’m saying to you now. I did say that to him. I talked to him. I can understand it because I was a No9. But the fans don’t know what goes through your head at a moment like that, especially in that last match against Chile, when he had the ball at his feet for a few yards. You can imagine what was going on. From the moment he gets on the ball till the moment he shoots, he’s picturing in his mind the chance he missed against Germany and the one in the previous final against Chile. All those thoughts make it harder for you. Maybe it would have been easier if he’d got a rebound and hadn’t had any time to think. But that’s football for you.

Gabriel Batistuta: four facts

  • Made 78 appearances for Argentina and scored 56 goals

  • Played at three World Cups (USA 1994, France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002)

  • Also played at three Copa Americas, winning the competition in 1991 and 1993

  • A FIFA Confederations Cup winner in 1992, he also featured at the 1995 Tournament of Champions

There’s something we’d like to clear up. Is it true that you once said you never liked football? I did say it, but I was trying to protect myself against the press and the public. I said it, so they’d stop asking me things. I was finding the training all too much. You have to remember I was playing in Italy in the good times. There was a lot of pressure and everyone talked about football all the time, which I found pretty boring. It goes without saying that I love the game, the tactics, the training and everything that happens on the pitch. I wasn’t that excited about football when I was young, but it did become my passion. I ended up living and breathing football. Now, I have difficulty walking because of it, because I gave more than I had to give.

The truth is somewhere in between. I love the game and everything that goes with actually playing. What I don’t like so much are the interviews (laughs), the controversy and all the external stuff.

Were you surprised to see Lionel Messi overtake you as Argentina’s leading scorer?I’d seen it coming for five or six years. I actually thought he’d have got there earlier! It’s a record that was close to my heart, but he’s beaten it and that’s that. I broke the record myself back in the day (laughs). It’s what happens.

Read the full interview in FIFA 1904.