The international sniping begins

Argentina play Uruguay in the Monumental on Saturday and whilst things are rarely friendly between two of the oldest rivals in international football, the sniping has come from an unexpected angle on Tuesday: Julio César Cáceres. That’s Julio César Cáceres of Paraguay. Obviously seeking to crank up the pressure on a team currently trailing in Paraguay’s wake in the World Cup qualifying table, Cáceres spoke out on Tuesday, and the target of his ire was one of his own club-mates – his captain, in fact: Boca Juniors’ Juan Román Riquelme, who’s responded in his trademark carefree, cheery fashion.

Cáceres was speaking in the context of current unrest at Boca following Mauricio Caranta’s relegation to backup goalkeeper behind new boy Javier García, who started for the first time for the first team in the 2-1 home defeat to Estudiantes on Sunday. In international week, though, he didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the interview with Paraguay’s Radio Católica Cáritas into a tirade against certain aspects of the Argentine selección. Caranta met on Tuesday with Boca manager Carlos Ischia, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with the reasons Ischia gave him for his sidelining. Cáceres spoke about that situation but saved the main portion of his criticism for Boca captain Riquelme.

‘Riquelme when he plays for the Selección is more motivated than when he plays for Boca,’ Cáceres told the interviewer, making a statement plenty of Argentina fans would probably disagree quite strongly with given JRR’s performances for both his club and his country so far this year. ‘He could be tired or mentally “saturated”,’ the Paraguayan continued, not so much hitting the nail on the head as driving it home with a sledgehammer. ‘When you don’t have any motivation, you need to spend a bit of time on the sidelines.’ Cáceres compared Riquelme unfavourably with attacking partner Martín Palermo, a man who for all his successes with the club he’s supported all his life, remains hungry for more.

The response from Riquelme, who’s currently training separately from the rest of the Argentine squad in an effort to regain fitness due to a metatarsal problem, was scathing. ‘He’s left all his former clubs in the wrong manner,’ said Riquelme, whose exits from first Barcelona and Villarreal I must have dreamt. ‘The only thing [Cáceres] wants is to cause trouble. If he wanted to leave Boca, there was no need to pick on me.’ He’s certainly got a point there, and it might be added that if Cáceres didn’t want to leave Boca, he could equally have spoken out about any of Argentina’s other players from the squad this week. Where this is going we’ll find out…

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, it was announced that Alfio Basile will break with tradition by not giving a pre-match press conference in the buildup to the Uruguay match. His first comment on the current qualifiers will come in the post-match interviews. Given the pressure he’s under to deliver a win at some point, he won’t be looking forward to that if Argentina come up short against their oldest rivals. Manchester United’s Carlos Tevez knows what’s needed, though; ‘We need to be more alive. If we’re not good footballistically right now, more than good play we just need the points, because everyone’s fighting each other at the top [of the qualifying table].’ Wise words indeed.

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6 thoughts on “The international sniping begins

  1. Sam-Thanks for the info on Caceres, Roman and the rest. Well, Boca has been playing like a team with dissension problems and now we are seeing more and more evidence. Last season River, and now Boca with management/personnel issues. Can’t we all just get along ?!:)

  2. My selfish side wishes that Roman had a stronger off-field personality, with more fire. I want him to be more of an off-field leader, show his anger and talk as if futbol were war! His talent is undeniable but he is such a modest guy away from the pitch.

    The affect on me is strange — when his inconsistency shows on the field, I lose faith in him. A display of off-field passion would make me believe in him EVEN more.

    Don’t ask me why I feel this way. Asking more from “older” players typically yields little result. Players grow futbolistically and psychology then they mature. At his age, Roman has little growth left and his play (when he’s “on”) is already world class.

  3. “Footballistically”? Wow. I hope this term catches on.

    What is it about Riquelme that inspires such conflict? Even your writing, Sam, takes on an almost contemptuous tinge when it comes to him. Everything he does seems controversial. The last Argentine player with a similar effect was Veron when he was in Europe. I know people are divided on just how good he is, if at all, but the same is true of many players. Yet none seem to be quite so contentious. So what is it?

  4. ‘Fútbolisticamente’ (‘Footballistically) is a word I’m desperately trying to introduce to the English language, David, but annoyingly Arsene Wenger used it on Match Of The Day last season and thus, I suspect, he’ll get the credit for it even though I first used it almost two years ago in one of my first columns for Voice Of Football. It’s a magnificent word though, and one that could only really have been invented in Spanish.

    If there’s any contempt in my writing about Riquelme I’m sure it’s down to the River fan in me. That being said, I got more than a little irritated with Ortega at the end of last season as well. Allow me to clear one thing up: I rate Riquelme as a player when he’s on the top of his game. No-one in world football in the last ten years does what he does quite as well as he does it. The problem is that when you build a team around him, as I mentioned for Soccernet a couple of weeks ago, it only takes him to have an off day and the whole team suffers. What it does is create a ‘one man team’ when frankly any side with Boca’s players shouldn’t need to do so – and any side with Argentina’s players needs it even less.

    The contentiousness with Riquelme comes from the fact that his standing at Boca (and by extention, ex-Boca man Alfio Basile’s Argentina) is so high that he does, perhaps, find it a little hard to keep his feet on the ground as part of another team. And in spite of his ‘modesty’ and ‘quietness’, he’s not exactly shy about looking thoroughly grumpy and returning the bitchy comments when they come his way.

    I would swap the word ‘Europe’ for the word ‘England’ with regards to Verón, by the way. And that was primarily because his managers in England didn’t quite get his position. In Italy, there were few complaints about him…

  5. I thought I had heard footballistically before. Must have been Wenger.

    I get the arguments for and against Riquelme, I just don’t understand the venom that fuels those arguments. Even on English-language sites people (non-Argentines) get extremely wound up about this one player. Tim Vickery mentioned it in his last column for the BBC site, then the comments were full of bitching. When Marcela Mora y Araujo has written about him for the Guardian, the response was crazy. Pablo Aimar or Javier Saviola don’t rouse such passions. It just baffles me.

  6. I think it’s got at least partly to do with the fact that neither Aimar nor Saviola are having teams built around them, David. They’re comparatively marginal figures whereas Riquelme is central for both club and country.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s the best in the world at what he does, on his day – but with the current set-up, if it’s not his day, everyone else is screwed as well.

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