Old master Juan Román Riquelme is finished with the blue and yellow of Boca Juniors
The No.10 in Argentine football is almost as important a part of the national identity as the old clichés of steak or tango and in recent years, as far as a large section of the country is concerned, there has been only one – Juan Román Riquelme.
The Boca Juniors midfielder is literally, as well as metaphorically, an idol at the club, one of a very select group of players to play at a ground already bearing his statue, and worshipped accordingly by his team’s passionate fans.
Occupying the coveted enganche role, literally the hook joining midfield and attack, his languid creativity has been at the heart of Boca’s success over the last two decades, and come to define a position more deeply ingrained in the national psyche than any other. However now it seems his era is coming to a close.
Following the Copa Libertadores final in 2007, where his performance drove Boca to victory, Riquelme understandably dominated the headlines, and so it was again last week after his club’s latest continental final, although for very different reasons.
This time his team lost, undone by the defensive resolve of Brazil’s Corinthians, whose victory ended their hoodoo in the competition and over a century of mocking from their local, more successful rivals.
This time it was only after the game that Riquelme became the centre of attention, announcing he had nothing more to give, that he felt empty and that he could no longer stay at Boca.
In the past the merest hint of his exit from the club would have been unthinkable, he was the living, playing embodiment of Boca Juniors as far as the fans were concerned and worshipped like a god because of it.
However now there is a sense of inevitability about his departure, the 34-year-old is not the force he was, and not for the first time in his career he does not see eye to eye with his manager.
Riquelme has always been a difficult and unique talent, he is an old master in an age of impressionists and while some managers have done everything they can to accommodate him, he has never fitted easily into the plans or philosophy of current boss Julio Cesar Falcioni.
This clash of styles led to a post-game confrontation between the two earlier in the season, which nearly saw Falcioni walk away from the club. He was persuaded to stay though and in guiding Boca to their tenth Copa Libertadores final, the final of the inaugural Copa Argentina as well as winning last year’s Apertura title, he has brought success back to the club after a four year drought.
While Riquelme has not retired from the game, with offers from Brazil and the Middle East flying in, it appears he has played his last game in the blue and yellow of the club that he gave so much of his career to. An old-school playmaker, the last of a dying breed, his sulky gracefulness will be missed by many in the barrios of Buenos Aires and beyond.Tagged in: Boca Juniors, Juan Román Riquelme
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