Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
“I’ve missed you all,” said Riquelme as he sat down in front of the press, shortly after finally signing his four-year contract extension at Boca. If only you knew, Román, if only you knew. It’s us who missed you.
The thing is, Román does know. He is, as the journalist Angela Lerena pointed out moments after the press conference, even more gifted with a microphone than he is with a ball.
Román’s brilliance in front of an audience of baying journalists was the perfect tonic to the acrimonious past three months at Boca. "It would have been better if it had all been resolved at the first meeting," he said. Yes, indeed it would.
While it’s all smiles down in La Boca now that he has put pen to paper on a deal that keeps him at the Bombonera till 2014, the issue of Riquelme’s contract hasn’t been so straightforward.
When it came down to the crunch – when it came down to approving the $5m contract over four years – eight in the boardroom said sí. Eight said nooooooo. One looked for the nearest fence and said sin comentario. One of those voting, Raúl Ríos, thought it so important to vote that even while three people lay dead under a recently collapsed building, and even though he heads the department that oversees construction in Buenos Aires, he still went to vote.
It took Boca president Señor Jorge Amor Ameal to cast the deciding vote and swing it in favour of Riquelme. Forget your telenovela, forget your Sunday omnibus and forget your DVD series. Riquelme’s contract extension was this close-season’s real soap opera.
The most recent stumbling block was the tax. Riquelme didn’t really fancy forking out his part. Boca didn’t really fancy paying it either. In the end, they’ve gone halves (the club treasurer quit over this particular point).
Going back through the episodes, though, it was a classic will-he-won’t-he. First of all we had the whole of last year and the weeks leading up to his contract expiring full of speculation. Then it all went quiet. Then the coach announced it was a done deal. The star didn’t like that.
In the meantime, one former president, still mightily influential in proceedings at the club, wasn’t happy with it all and tried to extend that influence to make sure there was no contract extension.
Then the arch-rival in the dressing room extended his deal at the club first, upping the ante. Generous offers were then ‘laughed at’ by the star. During one showdown meeting, scores of fans met outside the hotel to wave flags, burn flags of the evil baddy in all this, sing songs and just let off some steam.
In the meantime, Cesar Menotti suggested the door was open at Independiente, Miguel Ángel Russo said forget them and come to Racing, while Juan Sebastián Verón dreamed of playing alongside Román at Estudiantes. Riquelme thanked all three yesterday, but promised he’d try to win another Copa Libertadores for Boca, the club he supports.
Right now he is injured. And unlike last season, he’ll wait till he’s 100% to come back. He’s still a few weeks from returning to the pitch, but at least the drama is over, the speculation, the off-the-record comments and the nastiness can all end. Riquelme has signed. Viva Riquelme.
Now we all get on with the season. Amen.
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