Never in so many years have I seen a rapport between player and fan as great as this one. From the blue and gold half of Buenos Aires never have I seen such adulation from the masses for one man, who seemingly appears to have total control of his surroundings the moment he lands on the pitch. The green turf is the grand stage set for this humble-looking man whom the fans see as their own.
Juan Roman Riquelme plays with such artistry that the tune of La Bombonera follows to his every move. The rhythm of play is often directed through the Argentine playmaker, pulling the strings from afar, enabling players such as Martin Palermo and Rodrigo Palacio to dance to. With that, everything need go through Riquelme; he is the heartbeat of Boca Juniors and thus, La Bombonera.
I write this article with a warm heart, safe in the knowledge that there are, indeed, players like Riquelme who play with the club engraved in his heart. The importance of a player’s undying love for a club has greatly dwindled since the big bucks have come in the game; before all the crying over salaries and signing-on fees and corporate chairmen looking for quick-fixes. It is quenching to see that, in this age of the modern game, a player of Riquelme’s heart still exists.
Yes, you could say the main reason he returned to Boca Juniors from Spanish side Villarreal was due to his mother’s health, but that nonetheless that doesn’t hinder his passion for the club. If any, it served as a greater outlet for his return. One of the best players in the world turns his back on Europe and a host of top clubs for the path home to his roots.
The relationship Riquelme has with Boca fans is akin to that of Henry at Arsenal, Gerrard at Liverpool, Shearer at Newcastle, and perhaps Cantona at United.
Gerrard almost moved to Chelsea before a last minute ditch deciding to remain at his boyhood club, an act of heart over mind.
Henry’s then-inevitable transfer to Barcelona was expected to go through only for the Arsenal great, musing over the rollercoaster emotions of losing the Champions League final to his would-be suitors, to have a change of heart on the return flight back home to London.
Shearer, a Geordie, having only a single winner’s medal—the Premier League title he won with Blackburn Rovers—turned down the opportunity to join trophy-laden Manchester United, where he would undoubtedly have several winner's medals to join the singular title he won in his whole career.
Instead, he headed to the team of his roots winning nothing. Shearer’s situation was possibly the most evident case of heart over professional desire; a decision made out of sentimental values. And it is this that is missing from the game today; sentimental value.
For me, seeing Riquelme run around the pitch, close to the fans after scoring, is a lovely sight. The stadium erupts and fans race south reaching the gates to gain a better sight of their idol open-mouthed streaming by; a rapport displayed out of love.
I wish loyalty could be more widespread in football.
Over the summer, I found it sad to see the likes of Ronaldo instigating a move to Real Madrid, Adebayor preying for a Barcelona move, Lampard turning down a staggering £140,000 a week four-year deal due to the Chelsea talisman demanding a five-year contract to see out his career. All this may have to do with professional desire such as winning trophies, financial issues and so on.
But can we ever see a player playing for a club for the club?
This would mean players devaluing wages and contract-related issues, and instead focusing on playing for the club and the joy it gives to just simply play for that team.
Along with certain players out there, Riquelme seems to be the exception to the rule and long may it continue.