Bati and the Beast

Football Italia
January 1999

Batistuta & Edmundo

Fiorentina look like real Serie A title contenders for the first time in years. It's due in no small way to coach Giovanni Trapattoni and his two sensational strikers, Gabriel Batistuta and Edmundo.

When you're hot, you're hot - and no partnership is burning more brightly in Italy at the moment than the attacking team formed by Gabriel Batistuta and Edmundo. The spark between them has really ignited Fiorentina's title challenge. Few defences in Serie A have escaped unharmed. Some of the greatest double acts have thrived on their differences. In theory putting together a fiery Brazilian and a proud Argentinian was not the most sensible thing to do. Under Giovanni Trapattoni, however, they have taken the Viola to the top of the League. This is all the more surprising when you consider that for much of last season this deadly duo appeared to be poles apart.

Edmundo ws desperate to return to his beloved Rio and swore never to set foot in Florence again. Batigol flirted with big clubs like Inter before returning to his first love. It is little short of a footballing miracle the are still together. As with all good partnerships, they each have their strengths and weakness. Batistuta is a consistent goalscorer - powerful, strong and impressive in the air. Edmundo is fast, unpredictable and possesses breathtaking dribbling skills. Together they spell trouble for any back four.

"It is vital for our championship hopes to have great players like Batistuta and Edmundo." admitted Coach Giovanni Trapattoni. "They are great example in training encouraging their teammates and helping anyone who is struggling. I've already said that Edmundo reminds me a little of Paolo Rossi and a bit of Roby Baggio. But Batistuta is Batistuta. He is better than any front man I have ever coached and that includes Roberto Bettega who scored 17 goals in my first title-winning Juve side."

"No side in Italy has a strike partnership as strong as ours," agreed Tomas Repka, recently arrived in the Viola fold. "Batistuta and Edmundo have dragged us to the top of the table they can help us win the title. Of course, we have less experience than some teams but we've got bags of enthusiasm to make up for it."

That thirst for victory has not been dulled by UEFA's decision to expel Fiorentina from their Cup competition. If anything that appears to have focussed the Tuscan outfit even more on achieving greater heights. Certainly their two most charismatic players believe they can win a lot this year.

If we want to win the championship we have to make sure we take points away from home," said Edmundo. "The trouble is that this is a well balanced league. There are no easy games where the result is a forgone conclusion. We swept aside Milan in the San Siro but then fell to Piacenza and only drew at Bari. We've got to concentrate all the time if we want to say on top." It is not easy to make predictions when there are alot of games to go." echoed Batistuta. "But we are on the right road especially since we have never started this well. Now we have to take advantage of this great opportunity." The opening stages of the Serie A season have shown a Fiorentina side far more convinced of its quality than in previous years. They have gained solidity thanks to grafters like Torricelli, Repka and Heinrich. And up front their two hitmen appear happier than ever. "All the rubbish that went on during the summer convinced some people that I was not the Batistuta of old," said the champion from Reconquista recently. "But it has only taken a few games to prove them wrong."

With a third son born this summer, Batigol is ready to move house in Florence to a quieter spot along with his wife Irina and their childred Lucas, Thiago and Joaquin. His home close to the Stadio Artemio Franchi has become a bit too well known for his liking. But Viola fans will be delighted that that is the only move he intends to make.

A special fan club - the Viola Club Gabriel Batistuta - ahs been set up as the latest tribute to their idol. And local celebrities like film director Leonardo Pieraccioni and singers Paolo Vallesi and Irene Grandi have been happy to sign up. It is just another example of how highly the Argentine is thought of in Florence.

But Edmundo is also winning his way itno Florentine hearts. After some stormy times - his Coppa Italia quarter-final abberation apart - he appears to be giving his best to his new bosses. That can only be good news for Trapattoni, Fiorentina and his partner in crime Batistuta.

He works well with Batistuta and by the way they help each other on the field you can see there is no jealousy between them." reckoned former Viola ace Amarildo - the last Brazilian to win a Scudetto in Florence. "I admit when I heard they were going to play together I thought there could have been problems. But ont he field they have proved me wrong - and Batistuta has done really well out of it," he added. "No other strike partner has worked so well alongside him. They help each other out and that has made them the best strike force in the league. It could be just the kind of partnership that drags Fiorentina to a third title their fans have been waiting nearly 30 years for. Even their cautious coach ahs been carried away on the tide of enthusiasm that Batigol and Edmundo have created.

"Our team has grown and that is why I'm willing to speak about the Scudetto for the first time." said Trp. "I have seen that Batistuta believes in it. And Edmundo believes in it. And slowly the rest of the team is starting to believe it."

That is music to the ears of the volatile Tuscan fans who have had their fingers burned in recent years. Too many times they have watched their team tumble from the top and finish with nothing but kind words to their credit. This time, with Batigol and O Animal, they hope the rewards might be a little richer.

The Samba Footsteps

In Florence they like a South American flavour to their forward lines. Any successful Viola side has been built around an impresive straniero or two. Batistuta and Edmundo have alot to do to live up to. The Tuscan outfit's first Scudetto in 1955-56 was marked by the explosion of two of its greatest all time goalscoreres.

Edmundo Giuseppe Virgili, nicknamed Pecos Bill, grabbed 21 strikes inthe season and Chilean Miguel Montuori found the net 13 times. They were backed by Brazilian ace Julinho. While Julinho was already a superstar of the football world when he arrived, the story of Montuori is much more intriguing. A virtual unknown, he was spotted by a Fiorentina mad priest in South America and recommended to the club. He went on to score 72 league goals for the Viola.

While 1958-59 failed to secure the Scudetto by just three points, it did produce one of the most prolific partnerships in Italian league history. Montouri was joined by 'The Little Bird', Swedish star Kurt Hamrin, to produce a phenomenal 48 goals between them. It was not until ten years later, however that the side from the Renaissance city found another Brazilian to help them to the title. This time it ws Amarildo, with six strikes, and Mario Maraschi, with 14 goals who put a league badge on to the famous purple shirts.

Since those days Fiorentina have struggled to put together a great strike force although they did manage an impressive double act with Roberto Baggio and Stefano Borgonovo in 1989. They managed 29 goals between them to sneak their team into the UEFA Cup. But history teaches that it take a touch of Brazilian magic to bring the Scudetto to Florence. It might just be that Edmundo is the man to prove that is true once again.

Trapattoni Platini-tudes

Michel Platini is not surprised at Giovanni Trapattoni's success at Fiorentina. Trap's captain in his Juve glory days says: "He treated all of us the same. He blended the team together and sacrificed everything for you if you gave him the respect he gave you." Pele has joined in the debate too. "Trapattoni has begun to control Edmundo which nobody - even Zagallo - could do in Brazil." And Bayern Munich boss Franz Beckenbauer says: "He is always up to date in football and because of that he will continue to win. He has once again shown that he can do the business with teams under many different situations."

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