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Juan Roman Riquelme will always be one of the game’s great entertainers and the archetypal No10

The Argentine No10 was a unique talent who overcame adversity to bless the game in ways that brought joy to thousands

In Argentina they demand more of their No10s.

Not content with stylish passmasters, the public now expect otherworldly genius from such players.

This is the country that produced Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi; players who rose to the top of the game and then broke through to explore uncharted territory.

There is another Argentine No10 who did not win the same volume of trophies or global recognition, but was most certainly blessed with the same natural talent.

This is the legend of Juan Roman Riquelme.

This is what Boca Juniors looks like

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This is what Boca Juniors looks like

Born the day before Argentina won the 1978 World Cup, Riquelme grew up in a shanty town in the Buenos Aires suburb of San Fernando, where violence and nefariousness are the local past-times.

His dad was a violent gang leader and used to force Riquelme junior to play in matches arranged to satisfy the needs of illegal gambling rings.

Many years later Argentina’s underworld caused him much distress as paid half a million dollars in ransom money to have his brother freed from kidnappers without harm.

San Fernando

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Life was hard for Riquelme as a child

Humble beginnings meant Riquleme never let his celebrity status go to his head.

Famous for remembering the names of club employees, journalists and everyone else he came across, Riquelme has always been Argentina’s man of the people, even if he did believe he should be South America’s top earner.

A quote from a Buenos Aires taxi driver has long been attached to the cultured playmaker: “If there is one thing I respect about Roman, it is how he’s the only one in this country with the balls to tell that fat Maradona to f*ck off.”

The greats have never cared for sweat

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The greats have never cared for sweat

No player has ever personified Boca Juniors more.

Riquelme’s passion, flair and dedication are all products of 14 years of service for the Argentine giants.

While so many of the country’s star players spent the majority of their careers in Europe, Riquelme spent most of his time in his own back garden.

For this reason, he is idolised above the likes of Messi in many circles.

A young Lionel Messi learning from the best at the 2008 Olympics

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A young Lionel Messi learning from the best at the 2008 Olympics

He did grace our green continent for a few seasons of course.

Although he found himself unwanted and underused at Barcelona, a club that so easily could have made him the outright best player in the world had everything fallen into place.

When Louis van Gaal refused to pick him in his favoured position at Barcelona, Riquelme demanded he be let go to prosper elsewhere.

VangaalBarcelona

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Neither Jose Mourinho or Louis van Gaal thought it wise to play Riquelme in his natural position

That’s when he put Villarreal on the map.

Riquelme took them to a Champions League semi-final which they lost to Arsenal, thanks to the fact that he missed a last-minute penalty at El Madrigal.

But the unwarranted blame was only temporary.

Everyone at the club and beyond recognised the fact that without Riquelme’s relaxed brilliance, Villarreal would not have made it out the groups stages.

His style attracted many admirers; Zinedine Zidane chose to swap shirts with Riquelme in the Frenchman’s final ever club game.

But he also had his critics.

An emotional Zizou clutches Riquelme’s shirt as he waves goodbye to Real Madrid fans

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An emotional Zizou clutches Riquelme’s shirt as he waves goodbye to Real Madrid fans

Doubters lamented his work rate, or lack thereof.

But what Riquelme knew is that if you possess the ability to see the game a second before anyone else, running is barely necessary.

A playmaker in the purest sense he always had an insatiable eye for goal, dealing almost exclusively in Goal of the Season contenders.

Which he usually followed up with this trademark celebration…

Riquelme_celebration_1

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The aftermath of a golazo

Argentina may have reached the final of the World Cup in 2014, but they played their most attractive football of the modern era in 2006, with Riquelme at the helm as creator-in-chief.

Having starred in the group stages, Riquelme provided the assist for Roberto Ayala in the quarter-final against Germany.

With Argentina 1-0 up and dominating possession, Riquelme was taken off as his energy levels drooped.

Eight minutes later Miroslav Klose equalised and Germany would go on to do what they always have done, win on penalties.

Politics, disagreements and the abduction of his brother meant he ended his career having played just 51 times for his country.

In his second to last year with the national team (2007) he scored nine goals in as many games.

His talent was worth a century of caps, at the very least.

Magician at work

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Magician at work

For his final act he returned to his first youth club, Argentinos Juniors, and inspired them to promotion back to the top flight.

This act of repayment even won respect from River Plate fans, who are obligated to detest all Boca Juniors players from birth.

A man who made beautiful art while flares rained down around him

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A man who made beautiful art while flares rained down around him

Often mocked for his sulky appearance on the pitch, his creative displays brought smiles to thousands.

Upon his retirement, prominent Argentine sportswriter, Horacio Pagani, described Riquelme as the ‘second inventor of football’, crediting us English as a whole as the first inventors a century or so previous.

An expression of undying affection and hyperbole, certainly, but one worthy of one of football’s truly great entertainers.

sports football soccer futbol boca juniors

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