It was not to long ago that arguably the most talented creative midfielder retired from football, a player well ahead of his time and never fully appreciated for his genius. He was an artist trapped in a athletes game, a player who left more questions than answers, but it doesn’t take one much to value the impression he left on La Liga, Europe and the world.
Born into a poor family of eleven in the town of San Fernando, Argentina, he wasn’t properly noticed until around 17 when he got his move to Boca Juniors. He had seven successful seasons there, causing many to compare him to Argentina’s own Diego Maradona. With a host of European suitors, he eventually went to Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona, where he encountered the Dutchman’s notorious management style. He was labelled a ‘political signing’ by his manager and often deployed out of position, with very little game time and minimal faith from the backroom staff.
He then moved to Villarreal, and it was at the Madrigal where he captured the football purist’s imagination. Venomous on the ball and with silky movements off of it, he was soon being touted as one of the best mumber 10s in the game. With his deft touch and outrageous vision, he was one of the last of a generation of creative midfielders, a position where pacey, stocky dribblers are replacing languid, fluid passers. With Riquelme gone, many look to Mesut Ozil as the last of a dying breed in the game; Riquelme has the most assists ever recorded for an individual, 181 assists in 568 appearances, while the German has 176 in 375, only five off breaking the record.
Will we see the likes of these statistics replicated again in the future?
It’s unlikely, as there won’t be many more individuals like Juan Riquelme, a light in the history of La Liga.