Farewell Riquelme – We will always have our ROMANce

“The best player of Argentine football is Riquelme, the second best is Riquelme when tired, and the third best is Riquelme when injured.” -Horacio Pagani

Farewell Riquelme – We will always have our ROMANce

by Hugo Carlos Chavez Barroso

When you see a player like Diego Valeri with superb vision, when you see Pedro Morales change the pace of the game, when you see anyone play like a true number 10, even if it’s just for a moment, during any given match…I see Juan Roman Riquelme.

Roman was special since the moment of his debut at La Bombonera, when he came on as a sub in the fall of 1996 for the legend himself, Diego Armando Maradona. After that there was no looking back, “Topo-Gigio” made the glorious Boca number 10 jersey his own.

Some might say that he is a footballer from another time, a time when the sport wasn’t as athletic and running to defend wasn’t a demand for everyone on the pitch. Then there’s the ones that called him ‘Freezelme’ or Pecho Frio (reference in Spanish for him being cold) suggesting he doesn’t have the fire burning inside. Others see him as wasted talent, a player who will always carry the ‘what if’ or ‘what could have been’.

Perhaps all these people didn’t see what I saw him doing. They didn’t see him command the popular club Boca Juniors through its golden age. They didn’t see him take a tiny nonexistent club in Europe to the Champions League semifinal.

They didn’t see you uplift Argentina’s game on the mid 00’s. They missed that astonishing nutmeg to River’s Mario Yepes. They did not enjoy the bullfighter exhibition against Real Madrid in the Intercontinental Cup…they apparently were busy watching “footballers” being athletes and running on and on.

Riquelme vs Yepes Video

But I’m certain that when the years go by, and suddenly they realize that they had the chance to enjoy the last #10, they will regret it and I’m not sure how they will face their grandchildren to tell them they weren’t delighted at the time.

He once was quoted saying that “He didn’t play to make friends”. Jokes even came after he announced his retirement some weeks ago, claiming that his farewell game wasn’t going to happen because there was not enough players to complete the starting eleven of Riquelme’s friends team. He probably didn’t make many friends, but he surely made many followers – on and off the pitch. He made us fall in love with football over and over again.

In Roman’s time, there was also a great #10, one that was more mainstream, more liked by the masses. His name is Zinedine Zidane. But while the “wise” men underrated Riquelme, Zidane humbled himself and asked the Argentine to trade jerseys with him after his last ever club game in professional football. In the eyes of the greats, Riquelme sits on the same table as them. In his last Real Madrid match, Zidane chose Riquelme to swap shirts.

Not only do great contemporary players adore his playing style, there’s also the common class people who watch from the stands that recognize him as being bigger than God himself in what was once God’s only territory.

Riquelme came, played his exquisite football, won them everything, and therefore the Boca fanatics were forever grateful. He was the chosen one, he really was.

Riquelme vs. Real Madrid Video

After Diego Maradona (once untouchable in Boca), had an argument with Riquelme which led to Roman ending his career, for the second and last time in the national team in 2009 and his chance of playing in South Africa 2010; Boca’s hinchas (fans) made it clear at la Bombonera with chants and banners who’s side they were on.

Riquelme knew this. He knew he owns Boca’s divine jersey and La Bombonera’s veneration.

“The 10 from Boca is mine. The day that a player from Boca wins more than three Libertadores, it will be his. And the day that a player plays more than 206 games at la Bombonera, it will be his playground, but for now it is the playground of my house,” Riquelme stated to ESPN Argentina after confirming his permanent retirement.

Even those who were born to despise him, had to give up, and instead learned to respect him even when that meant they had to bear him rip the club in their heart apart. As journalist and River Plate fanatic Javier Garcia wrote in a letter addressed to Roman:

“I impose myself not to like you. How was I to enjoy a player from Boca? Who can even think of it? I couldn’t ignore you either. You are too great for anyone that likes football to be indifferent to you. So then, I had to conform myself with the third option: I suffered you. I lived all your years at Boca with the sensation, the indescribable that the Xeneize victory was possible in any place, any circumstance or moment if The Ten was Juan Roman Riquelme.”

Riquelme understood and read the game in such a way, that coaching wasn’t needed, what was needed was for them to do what Carlos Bianchi did: let him do whatever he wants. Coaches shouldn’t restrict talent, those who do, are taking actions equivalent to not letting Michelangelo paint.

“With the ball (on his feet) he is the best, without it we play with 10 men”, once said Louis van Gaal about Riquelme regarding the time they were together in Barcelona.

When he said that, it felt like football had died a little bit. It was also one of those times when I realized that some people are blind when beauty is right in front of them.

We can easily enumerate his defects (real or not): his slow tempo, his nonfriendly attitude, his arrogance, his need of being the man to look for in the field…but if these is what it takes to win Copas Libertadores, see incredible goal-passes, witness his masterful strike, see the Yellow Submarine emerge to existence, win the Olympic gold, then, I don’t know about you, but in my team – Riquelme starts every match.

It will never be the same to watch football, to watch Boca without him, especially for a generation that was deeply marked by his path in football from beginning to end. It might be a long time after we see another real #10, another playmaker of his characteristics…but until then, we will always have…Roman.

More Riquelme plays Video


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