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How To Be Better Than Batigol Without Being Noticed: Toto’s Guide

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Gabriel Omar Batistuta, a.k.a. Batigol. For those of us privileged (old enough) to have seen him on his playing days, back in the nineties and in the beginning of the two thousands, there is no doubt we say his name with respect. The same respect, and fear, that he imposed on opposing defenses. I could fill pages talking about his goal scoring talents and the futility of any efforts to stop him; even in the land of defense, also known as Italy’s Serie A. However, I am not going to tell you the fabulous story behind Batigol. I am going to tell you a different one, about somebody else.

I want to call your attention to a striker that has more goals in the history of Serie A than Hernan Crespo, Filippo Inzaghi and is two goals away from surpassing Batistuta for the tenth spot in Serie A’s all time top scorers list and yet, has not received the respect he deserves: Antonio Di Natale.

Antonio Di Natale
Antonio Di Natale

Di Natale, a Naples native, has being the most prolific striker in Italy for the past decade and yet almost no one will talk about him in the same breath as Totti, Pirlo, Del Piero of any of the best Italian players of the past 20 years. Life is not fair, especially in Udine.

Toto, as he is known in Italy, had a late ”blossoming”. To put it in perspective, both in terms of his top level and late development, from 2009 to 2013, Edinson Cavani scored 119 goals between Palermo and Napoli, while Toto, with Udinese, found the net 112 times in the same span. Cavani went to PSG after a transfer for over 64.5 millions Euros while Di Natale was celebrating his 35th birthday.

Still, at least, Di Natale is Udinese all time top scorer, and nobody could be more appropriate. He has been the most loyal, and probably the greatest, player that Udinese have purchased in their history. He started his professional career playing for Empoli in Italy’s second tier league -Serie B- in 1996, and spent the 1997 to 1999 on loan at Iperzola, Varesse, and Viareggio, before earning a permanent place on Empoli’s starting line-up. Then, Toto, played for the first time in Serie A in 2002 thanks to Empoli’s promotion. Yet in the 2003 season, Empoli was not able to avoid relegation so Udinese snatched Di Natale for the 2004 season, giving him the opportunity to stay permanently on Italy’s top division.

Di Natale’s career with Udinese gave him the opportunity to show just how rare and special his talent for picking enemies apart is. He is a master of the diagonals to break defenses and inside the box is as good as any clinical finisher you will ever see. It only takes a look to his statistics to confirm it. In the 2009-10 season, with 29 goals, he was runner-up for the European Golden Shoe to almighty Lionel Messi, and also had the third best strike rate -0.78 goals per game- in Europe the following season, 2010-11,(28 goals in 36 games). Only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, again.

Inexplicably, Toto’s career appears to be dictated by the saying: a day late, a dollar short. He was call up to Italy’s National Team in 2002 but was not present in Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning run. Ironically, he was call back to the Azurri right after the World Cup for the Euro 2008 qualification campaign. Moreover, his second best status haunts him as recently as the latest Puskas Award ceremony (same Balon d’Oro ceremony) where he lost to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for best goal of the 2013 season. Well, in retrospect, maybe it is not that inexplicable if you consider that he stayed with Udinese through his best years, even though better teams made offers to him -declined for the sake of his family-.

Furthermore, sadly, the most impressive statistic, and most unfair for a player of Di Natale’s caliber, is that he has not won a single trophy in his professional career. Think about it, a career spanning 16 years (if he does not change his mind about retiring at the end of this season) with seasons scoring on the same level as the best of the best in Europe, and yet an empty trophy cabinet. It is nothing but sad.

Still, his lack of trophies or success with the National Team, does not take away anything from his enormous talent nor prevents me for admiring him, because the trophyless Napolitan, is one of the best players the Serie A has ever seen.

PS: If you do not/remember Batistuta, Crespo or Inzaghi watch them on the tons of soccer videos on the web, you would not be disappointed, and remember Di Natale is a better than them.