Former Argentina international and Boca Juniors attacking midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme, 36, has announced his retirement from football.
He made 51 appearances for Argentina and scored 17 goals all in all, whilst winning five-league titles and three Copa Libertadores across two spells with Boca Juniors.
Beginning and ending his career with Argentinos Juniors, he moved to Boca Juniors in 1995 at the age of 16. Making his debut in the Primera Division with Boca Juniors at the age of 18 he quickly established himself as a prodigious talent.
After shining in 194 games he was transferred to Barcelona 2002, but found limited playing time and was moved on to Villarreal before he made a return to Argentina with Boca Juniors in 2007, where he stayed until the latter part of 2014, when he re-joined childhood team Argentinos Juniors.
"I have decided to no longer play football,” revealed Riquelme, according to The Guardian.
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“Now I am just a fan. I will go and suffer in the stadium. I am very pleased with the career I had.”
"Now I am just a fan. I will go and suffer in the stadium. I am very pleased with the career I had"
One of the biggest figures in Boca’s distinguished history, Riquelme was a sensitive player prone to issues of confidence, rebellion and inconsistency, but was equally capable of the tantalisingly incredible.
A polarising figure in Argentina, he faced questions over his athleticism and play style, but is considered one of the greatest players in Argentina’s history.
Having traced the routes walked by fellow Argentine legend Diego Maradona – Argentinos, Boca and Barcelona – Riquelme similarly found difficulties adapting to life in Barcelona.
Seen as a political signing by Van Gaal, he was treated with indifference and was told by the now Manchester United manager when he joined Barcelona: “You are the best player in the world when we have the ball. When we don’t, we are playing with one less.”
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The rare times he found himself in the team at Barcelona, he was played on the flanks as a winger. After just one season he was moved on to Pellegrini’s Villarreal, who he near single handily dragged to third in 2004/2005 and guided to a historic Champions League semi final in 2006.
After 143 games and 45 goals for Villarreal, Riquelme decided that he no longer wanted to train and was sold to Boca Juniors, where he stayed until the second half of 2014. From there he joined boyhood club Argentinos Juniors in the second tier.
His languid style meant that teams had to be structured around him to be at his best, as was displayed in his time at Villarreal. This in itself brought plenty of criticism in his native country, never mind a torrent of inquisitions over his temperament.
Questions of his speed, accusations of slowing down the game to his own pace, -un-adapting and mournful - he found himself at odds with football’s evolution.
A now iconic figure in Argentine football, Riquelme was an archaic figure not suited to a faster pace game. Rarely, if ever, one to track back and do any defensive work, he defined the 'Enganche'. Playing up the pitch he allowed the ball to do the running for him, the team moved around him.
Few players have been capable of such exquisite technique or intelligence with the ball, he suffered due to poor athleticism. Players like Riquelme have become an archaic luxury, an endangered species and football will be worse for his retirement.
Usually seeking to pass his way out of trouble rather than use physicality, he was capable of spell binding plays, encapsulated by the legendary Esteban Cambiasso goal against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup.
A missed Opportunity
Riquelme’s international career most likely stands as his biggest disappointment. Although starring in the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Olympics, he ends his career with just 51 caps. Making his debut in 1997 as a 19-year-old he faced issues with ex Argentina manager Maradona, who criticised the player for his lack of physical effort.
When he announced his full retirement from football he said: "I enjoyed football to the maximum. I hope the people have enjoyed it alongside me."
Oh we have, and in spectacular fashion, but we may never again.
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