Has Juan Roman Riquelme kicked his last ball? (video)

I have nothing left to give the club, I’m empty”. These were the words of Juan Roman Riquelme, the day after his club – Boca Juniors – had been defeated by Brazilian side Corinthians 2-0 in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, losing 3–1 on aggregate at Boca’s iconic Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires. The final, played on the 5th of July 2012, was the last appearance Riquelme made in a competitive football match. Having recently ruled out a fourth return to his boyhood club Boca and seemingly priced himself out of potential moves to Brazil with Fluminense and Palmeiras, we may have seen the last of the 34 year old Argentinean, so grossly underrated on our shores yet so greatly revered by Boca Juniors as their second favourite son.

Riquelme made his debut for Boca Juniors at the age of 18 and quickly became renowned for his languid yet creative style of play and his specialism at set pieces. The attacking midfielder scored 38 goals in 151 appearances during 6 years at Boca, before making the move to Europe with the mighty Barcelona in 2002. By the time Barca came calling, the mercurial playmaker had already won 3 Argentinean League Titles with Boca, as well as 2 successive Copa Libertadores and an Intercontinental Cup. On a individual level, Riquelme was twice awarded Argentine Footballer of the Year and voted as the South American Footballer of the Year in 2001.

Riquelme failed to re-produce the same level of performances at the Nou Camp, although this was largely not his own fault.  A fractious relationship with coach Louis Van Gaal – the same man who was responsible for Catalan hero Rivaldo’s departure – saw Riquelme’s opportunities limited to appearances as a winger where his creative ability was mistakenly under-used.

A move to up-and-coming La Liga side Villarreal gave Riquelme the chance to display his real talents to the European audience. At El Madrigal, his displays helped inspire the club affectionately known as “the yellow submarine” from mid-table mediocrity to near Champions League success. During his time with Villarreal, Spanish newspaper Marca voted Riquelme as the “Most Artistic Player” of the 2004/05 season and the Argentine received nominations for Fifa World Player of the Year in both 2005 and 2006. However, his most significant moment in a yellow jersey and on the European stage was one for Riquelme to forget – a missed penalty against Arsenal in the Champions League semis which would have near guaranteed a final appearance against his old team Barcelona.

Riquelme’s international career was perhaps unfulfilled, as it was so often de-railed by clashes with the Argentine media and national team coaches, including Boca Juniors’ favourite son Diego Maradona with whom Riquelme had a disagreement in 2009, thus extinguishing any hopes of a second world-cup appearance.

It was another falling out with Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini and the club’s hierarchy that paved the way for a return to his beloved Boca Juniors in 2007 where he won 2 further Argentinean League Titles and his third Copa Libertadores along with various personal accolades during his fourth spell with the club.

In July 2011 – while he was still on the playing staff – a bronze statue of Riquelme was unveiled at the Boca Juniors museum as a testament to the fans’ admiration of him and the many successes he has brought to the Buenos Aires club. Exactly 6 months to the day after he played his last game for the team he loves, Juan Roman Riquelme turned up for the first day of Boca’s pre-season training sparking both rumour and hope amongst his Boca following  that he would return to play for the club once more. Unfortunately, the often controversial character and arguably one of the most gifted footballers of the 21st Century just popped by to confirm his departure and so it looks as though we’ve seen the last of Juan Roman Riquelme. Well, for now.