GABRIEL BATISTUTA was widely regarded as one of the greatest strikers of his generation.
The Fiorentina legend made a name for himself with his powerful shots in the days when Italian football ruled Europe.
ReutersGabriel Batistuta is a footballing icon[/caption]
GettyThe Argentine striker is a hero at Fiorentina and in Argentina[/caption]
AlamyHe has begun playing polo[/caption]
He once finished third in Fifa’s World Player of the Year competition in 1999.
But since hanging up his boots the 54-year-old has had unusual experience with both pain and the sport of polo.
Batistuta began his career in his homeland, playing for prestigious trio Newell’s Old Boys, River Plate and Boca Juniors.
He moved to Europe in 1990 and scored 203 goals in 331 games for Fiorentina while also enjoying spells at Roma and Inter Milan.
The man nicknamed Batigol and El Angel Gabriel won the 2001 Serie A and eventually ended his career in Qatar with Al-Arabi just three years after lifting the league.
Batistuta has now left behind his life as a footballing icon after having a unique relationship with the beautiful game.
He once admitted to never truly loving the sport, saying: “I don’t like football, it’s only my job.
“When I was playing 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.”
Since retiring, Batigol has suffered with terrible pain due to an injury that led to him once begging doctors to amputate his legs.
The two-time Copa America winner’s goalscoring took a toll on his body and he underwent surgery a year after finishing his career.
He endured daily agony and insist it’s more common than many are aware of.
CRYING WITH ANGER
In an interview with Corriere della Sera in 2014, Batistuta lifted the lid on the problems he suffered with his ankles.
He said: “I felt pain, pain and more pain. The operation was a solution I’d been chasing for at least six to seven years.
“In 40 days, once I remove the brace, we’ll know if the pain has disappeared and I can finally walk like a normal person again.
“As soon as I stopped playing, I found my ankles to be in pieces.
“Bone against bone, supporting a weight of 86-87 kilograms. The slightest movement became agony.
“I had the same problem as [Marco] Van Basten, who said enough was enough at 28 years of age.
“I couldn’t get out of bed on some days. Overnight I couldn’t walk. I wet the bed even though the bathroom was only three metres away.
“It was 4am and I knew if I stood my ankle would kill me. I’d be crying with anger and I said to myself: ‘It can’t go on like this.’
“I felt sick, so sick that I went to a doctor friend of mine and asked him to amputate my legs.
“I prayed to him, I insisted. I told him that this was no longer life.”
The doctor turned down his request to cut off his limbs and instead performed surgery to relieve the pressure on his cartilage and tendons by putting screws in his ankles.
His condition did improve as it prevented the bones from hitting each other when he walks.
But Batistuta’s mobility is still a battle and he sometimes has difficulties on bad days.
And to satisfy his competitive side, Batigol took up new sports in his days of pain.
The legend remembered by his distinctive look of long hair in the La Viola shirt is now an avid golfer and even plays polo.
Batistuta got so good on the back of a horse that his team won the prestigious Stella Artois Cup.
He began riding as a child but didn’t take up the sport until he was invited to join in by a friend after his days at Fiorentina.
Batigol opened up about his venture into polo, insisting he is still a novice: “It’s a hobby, but I always try to improve my standard, because the better I play, the more fun I have.
“Playing polo gets my adrenaline going.
“It is a very tactical sport and I’m devoting time to getting better. I’m having fun, but my character demands that I do things well, so I’m making and effort to learn and practice.
“I met Adolfo Cambiaso, the world’s best polo player, and he invited me to play a match with his team.
“We entered the Stella Artois Cup and we won it, which was fantastic although it doesn’t stand comparison with playing football for Argentina at El Monumental in Buenos Aires.”
AlamyGabriel Batistuta attends the Argentina Polo Tour and played in the Loro Piana Team[/caption]
AFP – GettyHe suffered with severe pain after hanging up his boots[/caption]
News Group Newspapers LtdGabriel Batistuta was granted with the freedom of Florence[/caption]