Juan Roman Riquelme, the last pure playmaker, retires from soccer
Argentine legend Juan Roman RIquelme has retired from the game of soccer at the age of 36.
Over the course of an 18-year professional career, Riquelme developed a reputation as one of the most shrewd operators in the game, as his visionary passing, unreal control of the ball, and creative flair made him a revered personality by soccer aficionados everywhere. So strong was Riquelme's manner that even his flaws (an almost complete lack of defensive ability, little work rate off the ball) became endearing; indications of a player that played his own way even as the sport distanced itself from the style in which he excelled.
Riquelme began his career as a youth player with Argentinos Juniors, before Buenos Aires powerhouse Boca Juniors signed him as a youth player and handed him his Primera Liga debut at the age of 18. Riquelme served as the fulcrum for a run of dominance with Boca, helping the club capture six titles, including the 2000 and 2001 editions of the Copa Libertadores and the 2000 Intercontinental Cup.
His performances led to a move to Barcelona, but Riquelme and then-manager Louis Van Gaal never found common ground and he was subsequently shipped to Villarreal. It was there that Riquelme made his name in Europe, leading the Valencian side to the semifinals of the 2005-2006 Champions League. Throughout this period Riquelme was also an ever-present fixture with the Argentina national team, with which he earned 51 caps, scoring 17 goals and representing the team at the 2006 World Cup, 1999 and 2007 Copa Americas, and the 2008 Olympic games (where Argentina won gold).
Thanks largely to the success of the Spanish national team and its high-pressure system focusing on width and work rate, soccer moved away from utilizing a traditional, central-lying playmaker, and as such Riquelme played the twilight of his career as something of a dying breed. All of a sudden, Villarreal had no need for Riquelme's string-pulling from midfield, and the Argentine moved back to Boca Juniors in 2007. He played seven more seasons before making a handful of appearances back where his career started, at Argentinos Juniors.
Lot of people have said lots of words about Riquelme, but few were as enthusiastic (or as verbose) as Ray Hudson (in English, at least).
Here’s a pretty great compilation of Hudson's, at least half of which are separate soliloquies on Riquelme:
And here’s a longer highlight reel of all Riquelme had to offer: