What you may know: Boca Juniors and Argentina icon Juan Roman Riquelme is leaving the Buenos Aires-based club. The 34-year-old trequartista says he has nothing left to give the club after Boca’s recent Copa Libertadores loss to Corinthians. His contract up, the 2001 South American player of the year has been linked with moves to China, the Middle East, and Brazil. Given the general trend in world soccer, it’s hard to blame a guy for cashing it.
Well, it’s hard unless you’re Diego Maradona, who has labeled Riquelme a “traitor” for leaving Boca:
“If one wants to fight with Maradona, that’s not important to me,” Maradona said on Radio Metro. “But what you can’t do is be a traitor to the fans at Boca.”
That first part about fighting with third-person Maradona? Riquelme isn’t exactly Don Diego’s biggest fan. Shortly after Maradona was named Argentina national team coach in 2009, Roman retired from international soccer, citing differences with his new boss. The Albiceleste went on to make the quarterfinals at South Africa 2010, though they had to withdraw Lionel Messi into attacking midfield to compensate for their lack of creativity.
If Maradona’s feelings are born from rejection, that’s understandable, but he might want to wait until Riquelme signs with River Plate before labeling him a traitor. Or, wait until he signs somewhere else within Argentina. Heck, just wait until the guy signs anywhere. How can you call a guy a traitor if you don’t know what he’s going to do?
Perhaps I’m being too picky. Maybe the mere act of turning his back on Boca makes him a traitor (regardless of where he ends up), though that definition wouldn’t be kind to Diego. In 1982, Maradona left Boca Juniors for Europe, signing with Barcelona. True, that’s Barcelona, a team which may require an exception, but when Maradona moved on from Cataluyna in 1984, he didn’t go back to Boca. He went to Napoli. Then Sevilla. And when he returned to Argentina, he didn’t immediately go back to Boca. He played with Newell’s Old Boys before finishing his career at the Bombonera.
The worst part of Maradona’s comments isn’t the accuracy or hypocrisy. It’s the parallelism with Pele. For years, Maradona’s Brazilian rival for best player ever has been a kind of miscast spiritual and intellectual arbiter of the game. It’s a position of convenience, given it provides a platform to assert his best player case, but it’s also led to opportunities like the FIFA 100 – Pele’s list of the 125 greatest living players (that the governing body solicited from him).
What are Pelé’s qualifications to be making such lists? He was a magnificent soccer player, though it’s a stretch to make him a committee of one deciding which players will and won’t be recognized by FIFA. It also doesn’t give him license to moderate the greatest player ever debate.
Likewise, Maradona’s over-stretching his bounds in labeling Riquelme a traitor. If that’s how he really feels, he’s entitled to it, but there’s something very unsavory about taking those feelings public. It reeks of sensationalism, partiality, and perhaps (given what happened in 2009) a pinch of vendetta.
That’s all speculation on my part, but when you read comments like Maradona’s and start considering motivations, you’re left with little more than speculation. Is it excessive club loyalty? Showboating? The manifestation of some behind-the-scenes issues at the club?
Or, is it just Maradona being Maradona?