Vol. 5 Num 400 Tue. July 12, 2005  

'Some people enjoy all the exposure but I never liked it'

Tired of terrorising goalkeepers, beating records and appearing on the front page of sports papers around the world, Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta decided to call time on his career in the relative peace and quiet of Qatar. caught up with the icon and Argentina's all-time leading scorer and chatted with him about his illustrious past and plans for the future.

Now 36, Batistuta was in relaxed mood as he revealed a largely unseen side to his character. A qualified pilot, near-professional scuba diver and self-confessed golf addict, he claims not to miss football. He still regrets not having been able to bow out with Argentina at the Olympics, however, and told, "I was never happy when I was playing. I always wanted more."

Question (Q): Gabriel, it is now three months since your retirement. How do you feel?

Answer (A): Great. I'd been thinking about retiring for a while, and the fact is I don't regret it at all. Now I can do the things I never could before. It wasn't an overnight decision - I'd been mulling it over for some time.

Q: There has been a lot of conjecture in the press, but what was the real reason for retiring?

A: My injury problems were getting worse, particularly my ankles, and I just found it harder and harder to motivate myself. I was getting fed up and just decided to put an end to it.

Q: Do you think you made the right decision in finishing your career in Qatar?

A: My family and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I'd never been there before, although I did go to check out some schools for my children. When I saw how good they were I didn't think twice about it. It's a different culture here, very different to everywhere I've been before. I like that, though, and I love new experiences.

Q: Is it true to say you were tired of the limelight?

A: It's all so professional now and I was getting a little tired of it. Some people enjoy all the exposure but I never liked it. I played football because I enjoyed it and wanted to make a living, reach the goals I'd set for myself. Fame was never part of it for me.

Q: And your plans for the future?

A: I'm taking a coaching course run by the Argentine Football Association and I'm studying hard. More than anything else I'd like to find out what they teach managers, but I'm not desperate to start coaching right away, not in the immediate future at least. Right now, I'd rather take an organisational role in a club or company.

Q: So you would like the Argentina job at some point?

A: Look, if they rang tomorrow and asked me to take over, I'd do it - it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can't really see it happening, though [laughs]. Seriously though, why not? One thing's for sure: if they ever did call me, I'd have to think long and hard about it.

Q:You have often said you are not a big football fan. Something of a paradox, no?

A: I know, but it's true. I could easily make a living doing something else. I really enjoy studying and reading, and I'm also a qualified pilot, but I wouldn't kill myself if I couldn't go and fly. It's the same with everything else. I'm virtually a professional scuba diver and I get a kick out of learning new things. I don't like arguing about football either because there are no absolute truths. Not everything's black and white - there are plenty of grey areas too.

Q: You left Argentina in 1992. Do you miss it at all?

A: All the time. My family and friends are there, all my people. Luckily, though, I've always managed to settle down wherever I've been. I've never had any problems making friends, but that doesn't stop you missing home.

Q: You said not so long ago that your career was a personal triumph over the people who doubted you. Could you expand on that a little?

A: Well, the fact is I never played for those people. I've always given everything for every team I've played for so that the ordinary fans, the people in the stadium, could identify with me. I owe a lot to the fans of Roma, Fiorentina and Argentina. They were the reason I played, my inspiration. I always worked hard to improve my game, to prove to myself that I could be one of the best for as long as possible. To be honest, I couldn't care less what the others think.

Q: You scored all sorts of goals. Which one do you remember most?

A: That's a difficult question. There are so many I can't pick just one. Every goal has a story to it that people don't know. Some of them were pretty scrappy but were special to me because they followed an injury or something important in my life. I remember quite a few, and the ones for Argentina have a special place in my heart.

Q: Who did you most enjoy playing with?

A: It's hard to say. I was lucky to play with some great footballers like Rui Costa, Francesco Totti, and many more. With Abel Balbo everything seemed to click even though we didn't play too often together. We had a telepathic understanding. There's Claudio Caniggia and Diego Maradona too. How could I leave them out?

Q: Did it hurt being left out of the squad for the 2004 Olympics in Athens?

A: That's water under the bridge and I don't like looking back on things. Of course, I would have loved to have been part of it. I've always admired sportspeople from countries like Argentina because they don't get much support and have to sacrifice so much just to take part. We forget about so many of them for the four years in between. They make the effort because they love sport. I would have loved to have been there with them.

Q: What do you think people will say about you to your children in the future?

A: I've no idea [laughs]. I hope they say I was a good guy and a great professional who gave everything wherever he went. Goalscoring records mean nothing in comparison. When you think about it, I only scored those goals because I worked so hard at my game. The most important thing when you hang your boots up is that you can look people in the face, and there's no question I can do that.

Q: You have taken up golf. I would imagine you would be happy if you achieve ten percent of what you achieved in football.

A: I play a lot but not as much as I'd like. My football career may be over but I can carry on playing and enjoying golf until I'm 70. That's the difference, you see. When I was playing football I never enjoyed it that much, I was never happy ... if I scored two goals, I wanted a third, I always wanted more. Now it's all over I can look back with satisfaction, but I never felt that way when I was playing.