In a long interview with Fox Sports, both Gabriel BATISTUTA and Oscar RUGGERI gave their thoughts on a number of topics.
The Argentina National Team, the 1994 FIFA World Cup with Diego MARADONA, Jorge SAMPAOLI and much more was discussed when the two Argentina legends spoke with Fox Sports. Here’s the interview translated by the great Juan G. Arango:
Gabriel BATISTUTA on Argentina:
“We are at a level where we can win Copa America. Now the World Cup, that is a bit more difficult. Because not only do you have the ones here, you have the ones from over there (Europe) as well.
“Right now, Brazil beats everyone. Spain is good, but when I see the matches, every Brazilian player on that squad is a star at their club. They even have a solid goalkeeper… they have been able to win without NEYMAR. Lots of things can happen from here to the World Cup. Everytime a player steps onto the pitch, they can get injured. Sometimes you can get injured when NOT challenging.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on Gonzalo HIGUAIN:
“Right now he is on a negative streak, but he is still making those movements and creating those situations. That is what counts. But with the way we talk about him, it is possible that is a heavy burden. To me that changes with a goal that scores off a bounce.”
“HIGUAIN needs a goal where it just happens. Not like the chance he had versus Chile and he has ten seconds to think about it. Against Spain, the one he missed, you usually make those 9 out of 10 times. That’s too much bad luck.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on Argentina moments:
“The first goal versus Mexico in 1991 I didn’t look, but I knew where the goal was. It seems as if it wasn’t me. Now MORE SO since I can barely walk now. I can’t run, but look at me then. It seems impossible that I was able to do that.
“I don’t know if I was with fear versus Australia in 1993. I did know we were pressured to win. The environment for that match was strange. We were young and when you are young, you tend to be oblivious to that. I did feel fear in 2002, because I knew that if we were knocked out, that was going to be my last World Cup.”
“The 5-0 versus Colombia bothered me at that moment, but it did not affect me. I missed a couple of chances at first and CORDOBA was the man of the match. It was a horrible result, but we played them again and beat them. You don’t get a second chance in a World Cup.
“I was never a great player, but you can be great if you work hard and improve. I improved a great deal towards the end of my career. I felt complete but I never felt great. No one would attack us because they were so worried about us up top. RUGGERI would sit in the back and (SIMEONE, REDONDO, MARADONA, CANIGGIA, BALbO and BATISTUTA) ask if we were having fun.”
Oscar RUGGERI on BATISTUTA:
“When we’d train in Ezeiza it was terribly cold and BASILE would say, ‘Let’s practice freekicks’. We hated it and (BATISTUTA) would smile because he’d aim right at the wall. He would try to kill us.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on MARADONA getting the attention:
“Imagine I scored a hat-trick in my first-ever World Cup match and no one remembered because Diego scored that amazing goal in Boston. I was like, ‘Now I will have to deal with all the journalists… no one even paid attention to me. No one even stopped me. They were all waiting for Diego.
“Then I scored a golazo against CHILAVERT and I passed Diego as the all-time scorer for Argentina. No one paid attention to me then either because Chila scored in that match.”
Oscar RUGGERI on 1994 World Cup:
“We could have won that World Cup easily. The group was amazing. MARADONA was great, the kids followed. We got screwed. That final between Brazil and Italy was terrible. We would have beaten everyone. We were screwed out of the World Cup.”
“That was some deal GRONDONA made. I don’t know what that mafioso did. That was part of the football mafia, most of them are in prison now. And the ones that aren’t in jail, are dead. Do you know how many drug tests Diego failed prior to that one? None.
“They ran out to the middle of the pitch to get him. I did those test in the World Cup and never did they go and get me on the pitch. They never grabbed me by the hand and took me to a test. They let me go to the dressing room and change. Then I’d take the test. That was the last time that any player was taken off the pitch to go do a drug test. They did that to show the world that he was going to have a drug test.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on Diego MARADONA:
“Diego was in great form. I was impressed. He also trained on his own. He would practice with the team and then he’d train on his own. He was totally focused. That day the World Cup ended for us. We lost to two teams that we should have beaten handily. The night that he tested positive he was crying and we were all in the room in there with him.”
“When we found out there was a positive test we asked “Negro” Vasquez, ‘Hey, what did you have?’ Everyone wanted to blame Vasquez. Then all the movement began. The press were waiting. GRONDONA finally showed up. Diego was walking alone before we started practice.
He went to sit in the opposite goal and I went to him and he said, ‘they screwed me over’. That’s what he said. ‘They are taking me out of the World Cup’. Look at the media here and GRONDONA is talking. At that point we stayed with him. We went to bed at about 5-6 am.”
“That was a shame. That was such a great team. We never even thought about drawing. We went out to win. Drawing wasn’t even a discussion.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on RUGGERI:
“RUGGERI would always yell at us. He had little time left with the national team and he wanted to win. He was like, ‘I have to win now or I will never win again.’. (RUGGERI) asked me to score a goal a match in Copa America and I had never played on the national team before. he told me he was going to give me a gift. I never got it. But I am still waiting.
“We did not have a sponsor. We did not have any clothes with Argentina back in 91. We got there for the inauguration and we went shopping. We went to a mall and bought shirts, we didn’t even know which brand they were. We all had different shirts. The following day, they gave us clothes. But if we didn’t do that, they weren’t going to respond.
“When we were in Germany, our outfitter took us to the store. We took everything, even the wooden foot of a mannequin and the boot it was wearing. They never took us to a store again. We would wipe out the store, but if we didn’t do that, we would never get clothes from them.
“RUGGERI was the beast. He was the captain as he had two World Cups on his resume. We were all young. I was 21, 22 years old at the time. Then you were still a kid. (CANIGGIA) was a little older than I was. We looked at him with respect.
“There was also SIMEONE, REDONDO… but when RUGGERI spoke… it was total reverence. Well, when I was captain at Fiorentina, they listened to me as well. In Europe, if the captain doesn’t sit down at the table, no one can. If I didn’t start eating, no one did.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on playing in Italy:
“When I played at Ancona, they ate dinner at 7pm. I was like, ‘How can I eat dinner at 7pm when the sun is still out?’ They had tagliatelle for dinner, so one time I was finished eating and I got up. All of the players started insulting me in Italian.
“They were yelling at me, ‘Where are you going?’ They insulted me. ‘Sit down. Until the captain doesn’t get up, no one does.’ ‘Aw shit, I am sorry’ I said to them. The captain took his time. And as soon as he got up he said, ‘You may get up.’
“The Italians ate in ten minutes. They would sit down and eat. Man, I was already dreaming of being the captain. I was like, ‘when I become captain I am going to have them here for an hour. My first day as captain, I had them sitting for 45 minutes. They got restless.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on himself:
“I was born a goal scorer. I always wanted to score. I had fun scoring goals. Too much fun. So much, that I didn’t learn how to trap a ball until I was 20. You know when I learned how to control a ball? In Italy when I made a bet with the coach. I bet him I could do 200 keepy uppies or if not I had to pay dinner for the entire team. I learned how to do it in a week. I didn’t care learning that. I didn’t think that was necessary. To do 200 keepie uppies and not know how to score.
“What is important is how to trap the ball, how to dominate it. How to move it here or there, depending how the opponent was standing. It was controlling the ball and being aware of what was coming up next, not controlling it just to control it.
“Sometimes you have time and there are times you just shot. Because you had to hurry because you had the defenders coming. There’s a moment that they take a risk. At that moment, anything can happen.
“There are times I like seeing my goals, there are times I get embarrassed… some were really ugly. (Watching 1991 goals)… like these, I didn’t have any boots, so I told the equipment manager to buy me a pair. He then went and bought me a pair that were one size too big. In the match that were beat Chile 4-1 I was wearing boots that were one size to big and it was terribly cold.”
“It was funny. I always dreamed of playing for Argentina because they were so well dressed. They all wore Adidas and it was a dream for me. That caught my attention. I wanted to get a jersey like that. And the first three or four years playing for them, I never had them.”
“Things got better when (MARADONA) came back to the national team. He was a great help. Things changed when he came back. I don’t know what he did, but it worked. They didn’t pay attention to me for sure. Maybe because they were scared of him.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on Jorge SAMPAOLI:
“I don’t know SAMPAOLI. He won with Chile via penalties. They spoke highly of him in Chile. But I didn’t see him much here in Argentina. Based on what I have seen, I am not to happy with him. It seems like he has an idea, I don’t know what it is. He has something planned and he will follow it through. I hope it’s better than what he’s shown up to now because right now Argentina haven’t shown what we expect of them.
“The team has not found its functionality. I see players confused and based on their body language they are not sure if they did the right thing or not. They don’t look calm. To me their biggest problem is in the middle. The players there don’t know whether to push up drop back. I hope they have a chance to work and that they can solve their problems.”
Oscar RUGGERI on Jorge SAMPAOLI:
“The little man (SAMPAOLI) has an idea but he hasn’t been able to communicate it. He’s not sure whether to attack or to play with a holding mid. He doesn’t seem to have a clear idea.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on Javier MASCHERANO:
“I am not going to a World Cup to experiment. I am going to win. And if that means you bring the most experimented player in form, you do that. What I can tell you is that Mascherano is in China now, it’s not one of the best leagues around. There are lots of players that have not been competing, so that is why I don’t like to just talk about MASCHERANO.”
Gabriel BATISTUTA on fans:
“One of the biggest problems Argentina has is the problem between winning and recognizing its idols. Some clubs here have their idols and recognize them for what they did. But they all have expiration dates. But they do not tell them, ‘Thank you. We are going to built a statue at the front of the stadium, but we need something else right now. I am talking about what I’ve seen since I came back. At the end of the day, the fans want to win. They are happy when they win. So if you want to win, you have to play the best players”.
“When I was unable to contribute, I got kicked out. The player also has to help out. A player knows when they are fine and when they aren’t. They have to help. “I knew when it was over. If you don’t realize it and if there is a serious board at your club, they will explain it to you. I didn’t need it. I told the team one day, ‘I am done. I feel like I am a burden on this team” and I left.
“When it comes to names, I remember CRESPO. BIELSA would have me start and I thought, ‘this guy is amazing, yet he can’t play because I’ve been here longer.”