As I write this article, I am waiting anxiously for the Boca Juniors Vs Argentinos Juniors match to kick off and wondering; when you think of the all time football greats, which names come to mind first? Best, Maradona, Pele, Zidane all instantly hit you, right? For me it is an Argentine maestro called Juan Román Riquelme.
Seeing as I just turned 18 back in September, some would say that my knowledge of football is quite limited and in all honesty, I agree. When Juan Roman Riquelme made his debut for Boca Juniors on the 10th of November 1996, against Unión de Santa Fe, I had just turned three years old two months previously.
It would not be until 2005 that I would hear about this magician who was considered (at the time) to be one of the deadliest and best playmakers in European football. By the time I had seen Roman play, he already had a load of individual & team awards. These awards included, Argentine footballer of the year in 2000 & 2001 and South American footballer of the year in 2001, as well as winning consecutive Copa Libertadores in 2000 & 2001.
After a poor spell at Barcelona (often being played out of position by then manager Louis van Gaal ) Roman was sent on loan to Villarreal in 2003, after just one season at the Camp Nou. It was here, at the Estadio El Madrigal, Riquelme would really show his class. His passing ability, movement, vision & trickery earned him rave reviews throughout Europe, being the centre piece to Villarreal’s Champions League debut campaign in the 05-06 season. El Submarino Amarillo reached the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by an Arsenal team that went on to the final, only to be beaten by Barcelona. These top class performances earned him a nomination for FIFA World Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006, as well as picking up the Don Balon award (best foreign La Liga player) in 04-05.
It was at the 2006 World Cup in Germany that I realized how brilliant this number 10 was. In each game he played in, I became more and more fascinated at the way in which he controlled the tempo of the a game with such ease; his movement, passing and genuine class on the ball during the 6-0 thrashing of Serbia & Montenegro was really something to behold, a master class in how to play the number 10 role. Of course I can’t finish writing about this game without mentioning the goal which Esteban Cambiasso scored, a goal which was a result of 25 passes, sheer brilliance.
As Argentina were knocked out by the hosts Germany, I was obviously disappointed but I knew that this would not be the last time I would enjoy his talents. In 2007 he was sent on loan back to his boyhood heroes, Boca Juniors, where he would be instrumental in securing yet another Copa Libertadores title, scoring once in the first leg of the final & twice in the return. These performances earned him the Most Valuable Player award.
In Jonathan Wilson’s book “Inverting the Pyramid”; he describes Roman as one of the last of the old style playmakers. At 33 years of age, and in the twilight of his career, if you haven’t seen this old fashioned number 10 at work, I suggest you get yourself a stream and watch him star for Boca before he retires. Once he goes he will be missed by everyone in the football fraternity, especially me.
It’s hard to do Riquelme justice in a few paragraphs but the below YouTube video helps to showcase his brilliance and confirm why he is truly the greatest number 10 of all time.
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