In terms of great examples of illustrious attacking playmakers, there is no one better that Juan Roman Riquelme. The sublime Argentine is one of the finest players to grace the position and is considered by many as one of the most talented Argentine players ever produced. At 36 years old, after a memorable career Riquelme has decided to call it a day and ride off into the sunset. Anyone who was lucky enough to witness him in action will testify about his genuine talent and flair for the game. Sharp on the ball, with incredible vision, neat touches and precision passing, Riquelme was a formidable opponent who wreaked havoc over opposition defenses for nearly 20 years. The four time winner of Argentine Footballer of the year including back to back wins in 2000 and 2001 was capped over 51 times for his country and will be remember as one of the last true number 10’s and one of the world’s greatest playmakers.
Growing up in rural Argentina, Juan Roman dreamt about one day becoming a professional footballer and representing his favourite team, Boca Juniors. Little did he know that he was destined to become an icon at the club he adored. His journey with Boca started in 1995 when he was signed along with several other promising youngsters from Argentinos Juniors, a club well known for producing some of Argentina’s greatest players including the likes of Jose Pekerman, Fernando Redondo and Diego Maradona. Aged 18, Riquelme wasted little time in impressing his new employers and before long was taking to the field for his debut against Union de Santa Fe. He would soon establish himself in the first team but it wasn’t until the arrival of Carlos Bianchi in 1998 that transformed Riquelme from a good player into a great one. That season Boca marched to the Primera Division championship in style losing only once in 38 matches with Riquelme now operating in the role he would later define – the attacking midfield playmaker. Positioned just behind the front two of Martin Palermo and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Riquelme was tasked with pulling the strings and making the team tick, a role which he played perfectly notching 10 goals himself on route to winning the league. His talent would soon attract attention from Europe and in particular Barcelona who were desperate to add him to their ranks in 2002 having just let Brazilian playmaker Rivaldo leave to join AC Milan that summer. A fee was quickly agreed and Riquelme would join the Spanish giants but his stay at the Nou Camp would not go quite to plan. Issues with then manager Louis Van Gaal who preferred to play Riquelme as a winger and the signing of Ronaldinho the following year meaning that the club was over its foreign player allocation eventually led to Riquelme being shipped off to Villarreal on loan. It was there under the guidance of Benito Floro and later Manuel Pellegrini that Riquelme would rediscover his form and show the world why he was considered one of the best players at that time.
Impressed with his performances, Pellegrini made his loan move permanent and set upon building a new side around him alongside striker Diego Forlan. With Riquelme pulling the strings once again, Villarreal became a contender for the title over the next few years and had saw success in Europe too. In 2006, Villarreal reached the last four of the Champions League, knocking out favourites Manchester United along the way but found it hard to break down Arsenal who progressed to the final thanks to penalties. Unfortunately it would be a tipping point for Riquelme and his time in Spain. Shortly after the start of the new season, Riquelme would fall out with Pellegrini and after things became irreparable, he agreed to a loan move back to his beloved Boca which would eventually turn into a permanent one. His return would mark a continuation of his early success at the club and would in the end turn him into a legend. Playing in his favoured position, Riquelme became an irreplaceable component of how Boca played over the next six years as he helped them to the Copa Libertadores title in 2007, a Recopa Sudamericana in 2008, a Copa Argentina in 2011, and two Apertura titles in 2008 and 2011. The legend was born.
With age catching up on him, Riquelme took the tough decision to quit Boca citing a lack of energy left after giving all he had to the club over the past six years. Despite interest from abroad, there was only one place that Riquelme wanted to finish his career and that was where it started – back at Argentinos Juniors. He would play for them for half a season before eventually calling time on his career early this week. For all the clubs that Riquelme touched and the players he played with, his legacy will remain. An Argentine legend and the true definition of a traditional number ten, Riquelme will go down in history as one of the greatest attacking play makers to have ever graced a football field.
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