It might be a bit early for obituaries but one has to think that Riquelme has reached the end of the road.
It’s almost a cliché, so often has it been said, but Riquelme divides opinion. The believers such as myself, are of the opinion that he harks back to a more romantic era, an era when the game was played to be beautiful. An old fashioned schemer in the mould of the great Argentine “10’s” or “enganche”, a languid, almost wistful technician impossible to knock off the ball and unique in his ability to absolutely dominate and command play in the midfield at a snail like pace……and sometimes not. This brings me to the Copa America final against Brasil.
As he did so kindly for his detractors against Arsenal in the Champions League semi final in 2006, Riquelme conspired to save his worst performance for the most important of matches against Brasil in the Copa America final. With five goals, a host of assists and an outstanding tournament behind him Riquelme should have take to the stage with confidence, ready to put the proverbial sock in the mouths of his detractors. But history will show that when it really mattered, he couldn’t take the step from unfulfilled mercurial genius, to one of the genuine greats of his generation.
It’s a shame really. In fact, I am completely devastated. Riquelme was a counterweight to the overwhelming trend in football today of power and pace over elegance and style. A unique luminary, who, with some intestinal fortitude, might have shifted the mindset of the football world’s tacticians and thinkers. Like the Argentina side he played in under Jose Pekerman and Alfio Basile, he was the template for creative, intelligent football. But like Argentina in Germany and a few days ago in Venezuela, the pragmatists have proved yet again, that they play football that wins. In the end, no amount of aesthetic, attacking endeavour or delicate football will stain the pages of almanacs and history books like a cup trophy. Riquelme and the aestheticists have to write this tournament off as yet another failure.
And so, in an alternate universe, Riquelme, at age 29, would finally live up to his potential and lead Argentina to the Cop America astounding pundits along the way and closing the mouths of the unbelievers. Soon after the heavy weights of Europe would come calling and build sides around him that would win European honours and prepare him for his one last shot at international glory in South Africa.
But it is not to be. As we approach the European season I have heard that Wolfsburg and Schalke are interested in the playmakers services, a move that would surely not suite him as a player. Whilst I am currently mourning his failures as a player, a move to England or Germany would be like watching his cremation.. With little else on the horizon, and despite his career success in South America, nobody will be offering Riquelme a platform to reach greatness this European summer.
His 30th year is fast approaching and I fear that Riquelme will be remembered as the great that never was. RIP and thanks for the memories.