Football is a sport full of your ‘characters’; effervescent enigmas who polarise opinion and thought patterns among coaches, fellow professionals, pundits and fans alike. While this style of player is becoming an endangered species one of the relics who, contrary to popular belief, has not retired is Argentina’s Juan Roman Riquelme.
Before I get gooey-eyed and runny-nosed about the mercurial talents of this spinster of a playmaker it is pretty clear that when you say something along the lines of ‘polarise opinion’ that Riquelme was a Marmite player.
His career was the subject of many a disagreement with managers. Louis Van Gaal was the first involved in such a transgression in the public perception when he felt Riquelme was a luxury buy for the club and he was discarded to the reserves before a loan deal at Villarreal kick-started his European adventure.
He helped transform the Yellow Submarine from a content underachieving club to Champions League semi-finalist’s, indeed he came within a firm Jens Lehmann palm of potentially taking them all the way to a date with destiny, his former side Barca in the final.
He never fully restored himself to those levels at El Madrigal and after more fallout’s with hierarchy he moved back to his homeland, with the club where he is revered in bronze, Boca Juniors. While those above him may wish to banish him for his out-spoken and often sulky demeanour the Los Xeneizes, the followers of Boca, heralded him as a hero against all antagonism and criticism.
They saw his ability to create attacking flow as if from clay and bring fire to a game that was tepid and drab as Titanic like features, like Prometheus. He was often left out in the cold to be picked at by those above him but the fans would only ever side with their number 10.
It is something we may never understand, how such a player could be so up-and-down. On his day he was simply unplayable. His passing so accurate that the lack of fitness and general willingness to run around the pitch made no difference, especially to those who draped him in Blue and Gold tickertape.
So where is he now?
Astonishingly Riquelme has not retired at the age of 34 but he has left his beloved Boca Juniors. Succumbing to the constant pressure on him to succeed at an ever ailing age he has left after failing to lead the side to Copa Libertadores glory against Corinthians last season claiming he was simply ‘too tired’.
He has offers from Brazil, the Middle East and China, but this is not a man of usual tactics. Don’t be surprised if he never truly reveals his retirement. Instead leaving a door open so that his passionate and unwavering supporters continue to believe he may return.
To those at La Bombonera there is little doubt, Riquelme, the divisive, spiky and often languid playmaker will always be remembered from when he was creating footballing existence as if from clay and seemingly starting fires in front of your very eyes.
On his good days at least.
What are your thoughts on the final chapters of Juan Roman Riquelme’s career?
image: © nica*