On Sunday 25 January, the Argentinian Juan Roman Riquelme officially brought the curtain down on a distinguished 18-year playing career. It was fitting that the 36-year-old chose to do so in a formal media setting, where he has proven himself to be as self-assured as he was on the field of play.
The former Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentinos Juniors playmaker, who also represented his country over 50 times, will be remembered for his impressive list of honours, crucial goals and sublime skills – not to mention his charismatic way with words.
As a tribute, FIFA.com has compiled ten of his most memorable quotes and anecdotes, encompassing topics as varied as the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ and his relationship with his father to his admiration for Andres Iniesta and the influence former coaches Louis van Gaal and Carlos Bilardo had on him.
“Everyone feels the game in their own different way. People say I never smile when I play but I’ve never seen [Zinedine] Zidane laugh, whether he’s winning or losing, and he’s the greatest there’s been for the last ten years.”
In 2006, on his character on the pitch
“My father never thinks I play well! With him there’s always something wrong. Even if the press say I had a good game, he’ll come along and remind of all the passes I misplaced. He always has high expectations of me, but I think that’s good. It stops me resting on my laurels.”
On his relationship with his father, in an interview with FIFA.com
“I was lucky enough to grow up during Maradona’s heyday. After we’d see a game of his, my friends and I would run out onto our street for a kickabout. When I had possession, I’d say things like ‘It’s Maradona on the ball’. Nowadays, my son says the same thing, but he’s always Messi when he goes to shoot. For people of my generation, Maradona was the ultimate idol. For the kids today, like my boy, that idol is Messi.”
Riquelme discussing footballing icons past and present with FIFA.com
“I’ve decided that I’m not going to play for the national team any more. I didn’t have to give it much thought. The fact that I had to take my mum’s health into consideration made it a pretty easy decision to take. There have been a couple of times when the criticism I’ve had between the World Cup and now has gone too far. There’s a lot of bad blood and it’s my duty to look after her. I love my old dear like mad. Who am I to make her suffer?”
On quitting international football at his mother’s request, after Argentina’s exit from Germany 2006
“There wasn’t anything on it. It was all about delaying the kicks that bit longer and making our penalty-takers think he knew where they were going to shoot. I remember that [Esteban] Cambiasso struck his kick at medium height, which he’d never done in training. But Lehmann still guessed right, which doesn’t add up. If you ask me, the piece of paper had nothing on it, but in any case he did a good job. He was very sharp in the way he tried to put our players off.”
Riquelme gives FIFA.com his version of the quarter-final penalty shootout with the host nation at Germany 2006, in which Germany keeper Jens Lehmann repeatedly consulted a piece of paper supposedly detailing how Argentina players liked to take their spot-kicks
“Messi is the greatest, the best in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo is like the ideal PlayStation player, the kind that can score with his right foot and his left. Plus he’s fast, tall, good in the air, scores penalties and free-kicks, and is skilful. But the one who plays this game the best is Iniesta: he knows exactly when to go forward and when to drop back. He picks the right moment to do everything: when to dribble, when to speed things up and when to slow things down. And I think that’s the only thing that can’t be taught or bought. You can learn how to shoot and how to control the ball, but being aware of everything that’s happening out on the pitch – that’s something you’re either born with or you’re not.”
**On Andres Iniesta, in an interview in 2012 with FIFA.com
“[Louis] Van Gaal told me I was the best in the world when we had possession but that it was like playing with ten men when we didn’t. He said he wasn’t sure about signing me, but I learned a huge amount there. His training sessions were marvellous.”
** Recalling his time at Barcelona on the day he announced his retirement
[Carlos] Bilardo saved my life. He asked me what position I wanted to play, and I said anywhere except in goal or defence. In my debut against Union (for Boca Juniors in 1996), he said my team-mates would give me the ball at every opportunity.”
Speaking about Carlos Bilardo and his Primera Division debut during the announcement of his retirement on ESPN yesterday**
“For me this is an important day. I’ve taken the decision to end my playing career. It was clear to me that, if I was to continue, I’d have needed a new challenge to motivate me. However, after getting promotion with Argentinos, I feel I’ve fulfilled my obligations to the club. Also I’ve achieved everything I dreamed of with Boca, so the best thing now is to announce my retirement.”
Making his retirement official during that same ESPN interview on 25 January 2015
“The ball has given me everything. Just like little girls love dolls, the best toy I’ve ever had, or could ever have, is a football. The person who invented it is a true hero: nobody can top that.”
On his special relationship the ball, in an interview with FIFA.com