Italy first came across Gabriel Omar Batistuta in the first two months of 1989. He was part of the Deportivo Italiano side involved in the Viareggio tournament, famously meeting Diego Maradona in the Hotel Caribe, where the Argentinian youth side was staying.
Gabriel would have to wait until 1991 however before earning his move to Italy, when Fiorentina sent Egisto Pandolfini to scout him and lay the groundwork for his switch to the Viola.
Batistuta quickly became a fans’ favourite in Florence, helping the club to third place in 1999, their best finish in 15 years. In May 2000, Franco Sensi brought him to the Giallorossi in a massive deal worth more than €70 million.
The Argentine’s unveiling at the Stadio Olimpico on 6 June 2000 was unforgettable, as 13,000 fans turned out, along with more than 100 journalists representing papers from all over the world. President Sensi revealed: “We met six years ago in Argentina. He told me: ‘Keep me in mind.’ That showed that even back then Gabriel wanted to come to Roma. He’s here today at Roma to achieve great things. Batistuta is the player we’ve been missing.’”
The Lion King, as he was nicknamed, was open from the outset: “Sure, we’re not in the Champions League but I really believe winning the league title is better than conquering Europe.”
Six days later, he made his debut in a friendly against Celta Vigo, while his first goal for the club would come in another pre-season game against Palermo on August 27. That was the start of a brilliant season in which Batistuta’s 20 goals (from 28 appearances) played a crucial role in winning the club’s third Scudetto, with moments of skill that will live long in the memory.
The following year, Roma won the Italian Super Cup but ‘Batigol’, beset by injuries, couldn’t recapture his best form. His final match for the club came against Chievo in Serie A in January 2003, before he joined Inter. Nothing could detract from the lasting impression he made at Roma however, and he fully warrants his place in the Giallorossi Hall of Fame.
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