Juan Repoise Riquelme
Jorge Valdano once told about him, “If we have to travel from point A to point B, everyone would take the six-lane highway and get there as quickly as possible. Everyone, except Riquelme. He would would choose the winding mountain road, that takes six hours, but that fills your eyes with scenes of beautiful landscapes.” Proma Sanyal takes us to a journey with this lazy conundrum.
It is winter and the average middle class Bangali sighs in satisfaction after a wholesome delicious Sunday lunch and preparing for an afternoon slumber. As usual, the whole family find a spot in the living room and settles down cosily. It paints quite a simple and lazy picture. However, there is an odd sense of peace and beauty that this easy laziness exudes.
I knew Juan Roman Riquelme as the only person outside my family who could bring that familiar sense of lazy peace and beauty. When Riquelme’s feet touched the ball, one simply forgot the match clock ticking away because that is when even Father Time had the time to stop and watch the moments of Riquelme’s genius. His feet quietly caressed the ball towards a fellow teammate. It never really was a kick. It was always more like a perfect stroke leaving the painter’s brush, slowly fading away. Just like his cardinal pass against San Lorenzo in 2000 hypnotizing the defense. Or, in other occassions, one always wished for the beauty to linger for a little more as the ball left his feet to kiss the far corner of the net with the goalkeeper either simply watching in helplessness or futilely diving in an attempt to save while the ball mocked past him. That was the Riquelme I knew.
I knew Juan Roman Riquelme as the person who made me wish I was born a decade before my time, for the years of 2005s and 2006s to come into my life a touch later, so that my memories of his magic would be a little less dependent on YouTube videos. Riquelme was the one who made the football talk – his feet scripted poetry, and the ball was his ink. It was this number 10 jersey that taught young, naïve, uneducated in football enthusiasts that football did not mean speed. He symbolised what football means for the Latin Americans – an art form. He grabbed the world by the neck and showed that you could have the world glued to your feet without running faster than the wind. People still believe in magic and magic is what he mesmerized the world with. Remember the reverse nutmeg on Mario Yepes in 2000 Copa Libertadores against the Millonarios which is still being discussed at a shady Buenos Aires pub being the greatest trick of all time? That was the Riquelme I knew.
I knew Juan Roman Riquelme as the person who helped me love football because I wanted to, not because I was told to. After being baptised into football with the 2002 World Cup, Riquelme happened to me in 2006. The pitch was no more what the white lined boundaries indicated; the pitch was wherever Riquelme set foot. Riquelme with the ball was a casual stroll in the park. While admiring his artistic expertise working his way across the pitch with a certain tiny teenage boy worked as an accomplice in weaving poetry on the field, I knew that football would never ever be the same again. Riquelme gifted to me many many nights of sleepless joy and sorrow to come. Clapping in joy, gasping in disbelief, crying myself to sleep, changing the course of an entire day in 90 minutes was never something I imagined I would let myself into. That was the Riquelme I knew.
While the most beautiful man I have seen says goodbye to the most beautiful sport in the world, he crosses the threshold from one end of the ruler to the other, he calls himself a “fan” now, who will go to the stadium and suffer. While it hurts to accept that maybe another like him will probably never be, one cannot help but smile at the prospect of being on the same boat with him, as fans of football. Juan Roman Riquelme, thank you for the memories. Thank you for taking me on a ride with you, so what if it also had that penalty miss against Arsenal in 2006 which shattered your dream of being in Champions League final? Or you were just beyond any covetous dream as you did comment with sublime nonchalance “I didn’t kill anyone. All I did was miss a penalty?” Thank you for being there, standing tall, and reiterating the significance of class for me. Thank you.