One of the most tumultuous years of Juan Román Riquelme´s life ended in storybook fashion, and saw him evolve into a truly great player.
Everyone knows about potential and how in this sport the individuals who never achieve it are treated in unforgiving fashion. This is how the media on both sides of the Atlantic treated Riquelme after Argentina were knocked out in the World Cup quarterfinals.
If there was ever a knock on him as a player it was the fact that he would not show up in the most important matches. In one of Boca greatest triumphs back in 2001, he was captured looking the other way while the Xeneize faced Cruz Azul. Last year in the Champions League semifinals he blew a penalty kick against Jens Lehmann.
As unjust or fit that this criticism may have been, it was something that overshadowed his development as s superstar in the football world. Part of this journey also saw him run the gamut from persona non grata to unconditional idol. This was what he needed. His fallout with Manuel Pellegrini and the Villarreal brass made him crave for that home cooking. It was the perfect blend for a player who seemed to be at the edge of the abyss.
Riquelme during this season, did something that he was not doing before- he demanded the ball in key situations. He was demanding the rock and at the same time, he made plays in those crucial stanzas of matches. None of them more symbolic than the Libertad match in Asuncion. He was always great, but somehow he realized his calling and decided to step up to the occasion and he never turned back. It was as if he was scared to take the spotlight in those moments, but as soon as he did, he could not get enough of it. He as willing to take chances in the fog against Cúcuta, to try his odds against Vélez Sarsfield and simply dismantle Grêmio. This was the first time that people saw him take a team on his back and literally carry them when was needed. These are just some new features to Riquelme 2.0.
What does the future have in store? No one knows. In Argentina, they are anxious to see him give Europe a much deserved ¨F-You¨; which he somewhat has already. It was just seeing him with those colors (albeit the yellow shorts did look weird) fit him well. Boca were the greatest thing to have happened to him. There was no doubt that he was the silent leader on this Boca champ which marched relatively marched through their opponents and conquered South America once again.
If there is a player that is worthy of winning the South American Player of the Year, and earn some votes for FIFA World Player of the Year, please le me know who if it isn´t him. Regardless of what side of the pond he is playing on, he has proven to us that greatness knows no boundaries. Tonight, Juan Román Riquelme stopped being that technically gifted player that did his Topo Gigio celebration which was mocked by millions in the Boca nation. He stopped being that player that was always combating against ¨the establishment¨ and did not want to take the baton that was being handed to him. Tonight he was officially crowned as the ¨Emperor of La Boca¨ because he decided to grow up. Tonight we saw the months of work with the team near and dear to his heart and how that love helped him metamorphose into a player that every team dreams of having.