For those of us able to remember Super Nintendos and Fantasy Football League, Gabriel Batistuta was *the* scariest striker in Europe in his pomp. Could there now be another for the Facebook generation?
Fashioned by hammer and anvil in the tumultuous bowels of Smelter B, one of the secret backrooms of Hades, Gabriel Batistuta was a truly formidable footballer, bred to scare the living what's-its-name out of defenders and then, after his inevitable goal, nonchalantly flick his jet black hair out of his equally black, shark’s eyes. After retiring in 2005, defenders across the globe understandably breathed a collective sigh of relief. But gather round little ones – the restless footballing soul of Gabriel Batistuta is not dead at all. It is alive and well and currently residing inside the body of an equally sinister Uruguayan. The ghost of one legend now exists in one very much in the making. Forget Batigol. Enter stage right, Edigol.
Watching Edinson Cavani against Chelsea in the Champions League, one couldn’t help but feel history was repeating itself. Batistuta in his pomp (and his pomp was spread over a long period, lest we forget) would not only intimidate defenders, he would make them obsolete. Off both feet, he was rapacious. He wouldn’t so much move into space as plunder it, like a hellish vision that was at once magnificent and yet altogether otherworldly. Batistuta wouldn’t just feed off scraps. He would turn the entire edifice into a carcass, whether such a thing seemed possible or not. His goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League in 1999 encapsulates what he was all about. Killing the ball stone dead, presumably without needing to look at it save for a withering glance, Batistuta glides past Jaap Stam and BANG! The power dispensed is obscene.
And watching Cavani marauding around the pitch on Tuesday brought back the same memories. The brooding intensity. The concealed aggression ready to spill forth at any moment. We may well be witnessing the reincarnation of Batistuta and damn, is that exciting.
Lazy parallel alert: Napoli under Walter Mazzarri are currently in a similar position to the one Fiorentina found themselves in 1999-00 under Giovanni Trapattoni. A season after finishing third, famous wins were secured against English opponents in the Champions League (Arsenal and Manchester United). And whereas that fantastic Fiorentina side relied heavily on the attacking triumvirate of Batistuta, Rui Costa and Abel Balbo, Napoli are powered on predominantly by their three maestros: Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik. A few quality players more both then and now and you have genuine title challengers. But holding onto those three, especially Cavani, is imperative if the Neapolitans are to progress. Fiorentina managed to do it with Batigol, but whether Napoli can spurn oligarchs and oil-rich sheiks is another matter.
Cavani is coveted property now, that much is certain. Roman Abramovich’s cheque book cannot help but have quivered when watching the shaved caveman with the velveteen touch terrorising his back line. A return of 24 goals this season, follows on from 33 in all competitions last time around and Mazzarri’s office phone will be ringing off the hook with enquiries come the summer.
However – and I may be alone on this one – there are certain players who should only ever play against English opposition in European competitions or for their national sides. It sets them apart and it marks them ‘other’. It adds an oft-missing element of mystique in an age of overexposure. And it allows the English media to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes; making bold claims of wet Tuesday nights in Stoke.
If I may be so bold, I don’t want to see Cavani in the Premier League. I don’t want to see him hit the bar against Fulham or slice a shot into row Z at the Hawthorns. I want to enjoy him destroying English teams in the Champions League a few times a year and to catch glimpses of him in Serie A highlights shows. Because some things should remain mysterious and foreboding. Gabriel Batistuta was one. And Edinson Cavani is cut from the same dark cloth.
Adam is one half of the magnificent Magic Spongers which you can read by clicking here