I’m RIQUELME. Love me or hate me


Yes, I know. Germany is coming on Friday and all our focus should be in that crucial match against them.

But I would like to write a few lines about one of football’s most intriguing players: Juan Roman RIQUELME.

I’ve been following football since as long as I can remember. I’m 29 years old and I don’t remember seeing a player as controversial as Roman in my whole life.

I don’t mean controversial in an Eric CANTONA’s way. He was either loved or hated but no one ever denied his footballing skills. And he also had a history of bad behaviour that has nothing to do with RIQUELME.

RIQUELME is controversial because if you read the Argentinean newspapers, you’ll never know if he had a good or a bad game. If you happen to go to a bar in Buenos Aires or in any other city in this country, you’ll certainly hear people sitting at a table next to yours, talking about him and you’ll see one of those guys playing the ‘defender’ part, while his friend will become the ‘prosecutor’.

It’s just like that. His performances are black or white; great or rubbish. But yet, never unnoticed.

His talent is impossible to deny. He has plenty of tricks in his bag and that’s something that is not very questioned. Even his detractors accept he has an incredible flair. A talent that was first known to the World when he was one of the key stars in PEKERMAN’s under-20 Argentina national team crowned in Malaysia 1997.

I remember him making his debut for Boca Juniors (a team I don’t support, by the way. My team is Racing Club). He was immediately criticised because he was not the type of player Boca fans wanted in their team. A Boca player is prototypically a warrior. One who never quits. One who will go for the ball like there’ll be no other, no matter what. And then, if he has time, he can also play.

But here comes this skinny young fellow, trying to make that impossible pass or maybe keeping the ball too much before being dispossessed and then, tragedy for Boca fans: HE DIDN’T COME BACK TO DEFEND AND GET THAT BALL BACK! LET ALONE A SLIDING TACKLE!

Yet, he started producing. He became irreplaceable, vital, needed in a team that started winning everything under manager Carlos BIANCHI.

Juan Roman RIQUELME started to conquer ‘La 12’ (the name of Boca’s supporters group, nicknamed as ‘Player number 12’ because his influence in a game by the way the vocally support their team makes them virtually become that extra player).

That was when ROMAN definitely conquered me. He won my respect a little bit before he won over Boca’s fans. Because he never gave up. He never pretended to change his style in order to win a standing ovation from La 12 while at the same time he never stopped trying to hit that perfect back-heel pass. That takes an incredible amount of courage, I’m not exaggerating and those of you who have been fortunate enough to attend a Boca match at La Bombonera, will agree with me.

League titles came, Copa Libertadores followed (with an unforgettable performance away at Palmeiras, Brazil) and finally he was playing against ROBERTO CARLOS, FIGO, RAUL, CASILLAS, HIERRO and all of Real Madrid’s super stars in the European-South American Cup in Tokyo.

What did he do? He had a memorable match, an assist included, and he totally controlled the game. No surprise FC Barcelona was watching and immediately after that, RIQUELME was bought.

All of that time, he was neglected by Marcelo BIELSA. Obviously, Juan Roman was not the kind of fast, first-run-then-think type of player preferred by our former national team manager. So he missed the trip to the Korea-Japan 2002 World Cup while he never got to shine at the Camp Nou as he did at La Bombonera.

‘So he started changing the way he plays, right?’ could be one of the question somebody, who doesn’t know how the story continues, may ask about him. Of course not! He went to Villarreal and he helped them to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Yes, he failed that crucial penalty against Arsenal in the semifinals, but he’ll step up to take another penalty if it’s needed. He failed because he took the risk and the responsibility that comes with it.

Reading some blogs around the internet and taking a look at some local newspapers in Argentina at that time, I remember feeling sorry for ROMAN after that miss against Arsenal. All of his detractors fell harshly on his back and started a silly witch hunt against him.

Yet, PEKERMAN confirmed RIQUELME’s place in our national team while he gave him the mythical shirt with the number 10 in its back.
The World Cup came hand in hand with controversy. While he is being looked at as one of the biggest stars in this tournament by the British media (to give just one example) and chased by Inter Milan, he is being very criticised back home. And that’s what I found controversial.

Some people blame him because he has a tendency to pass the ball backwards. Some others say that’s a sign of a great player who knows when to go forward and when to secure possession and start the play once again from behind.

A fair number of critics say he is too slow for international football. Fans and neutrals find his style and the way he keeps possession while waiting for the perfect space to place the next pass as something absolutely beautiful.

I guess that if you’ve been reading so far, you’ll notice that I’m one of those who like the way RIQUELME plays. And here’s my opinion on ROMAN’s World Cup performances so far.

While he had his moments of brilliance (a perfect assist for SAVIOLA against Ivory Coast a total dominance of midfield against Serbia & Montenegro with 77 good passes and only 2 bad ones, a couple of nice tries against Holland and another assist from the corner flag for CRESPO against Mexico and one pass to SAVIOLA that should’ve ended in the back of the net), he also had his moments of insignificant play.

The positive aspect of this whole thing is clear: RIQUELME IS YET TO PLAY HIS BEST FOOTBALL IN GERMANY 2006.

He had a private conversation with PEKERMAN two days ago and the manager gave him all of his confidence for the match against Germany. RIQUELME was feeling bad about his performances and his morale was a little low.

Now he has the perfect stage for the next captivating show in his career. In fact, the stage was never bigger. We are talking about a man who always stepped up to the biggest challenges.

We are talking about a man who might not demonstrate what’s going on inside of him.

And most importantly, we are talking about a tremendous football player who has thirst for revenge and wants to laugh last.

LEHMANN will again be the goalkeeper, like when Arsenal knocked Villarreal out of the Champions League. If I was LEHMANN, I would be very very very scared of this still skinny fellow.